In the first thirty seconds of this movie Ivan Locke enters a BMW which he never leaves for the rest of the film. Because this is set in a single location with all the drama happening over a cell phone I couldn’t help but compare it to Buried, a film which takes place exclusively in the coffin where Ryan Reynolds has been buried alive. Locke suffers for the comparison in two important ways. First, the inside of a car is not as compelling a setting as the inside of a coffin. Secondly, the gimmick of being in a single location feels less gimmicky when there’s a very important reason why the protagonist can’t get to a second location.
When people hear about how Locke takes place entirely in one car they tend to wonder “how are they gonna pull that off?” There’s a skeptical curiosity about it. When you mention Buried you’ll get a lot of shudders. There’s something so viscerally unpleasant about the idea of being sealed in a coffin that people are afraid that they wouldn’t be able to sit through the movie. That difference is massive. My built-in association of driving long distances in a car is quasi-boredom, and that gave Locke a hurdle it often failed to clear; my built-in association of lying in a coffin is claustrophobia, which primes you with tension before you even sit down.
The other serious problem with Locke’s set up is that it feels unnecessary in a way that Buried’s set up did not. There is no way to make Buried that doesn’t involve spending serious time under the ground; if you remove that element there’s no movie because the problem is solved. But if we take Locke out of the car and have him struggling with a screw up at work, then going home to fight with his wife, then driving to the front office to get chewed out – is that movie any different? The stakes are the exact same if he deals with the problem during one two hour drive or two consecutive days. I’m not saying that the gimmick of being set entirely in a car is unnecessary, but I am saying that it feels gimmicky.
Still, the movie is not without it’s charms. Locke is an interesting character, capably expressed by Tom Hardy. The script is paced well, with problems escalating and retreating in such a way that the tension continues to build without feeling labored. It’s an interesting experiment which doesn’t completely wear out it’s welcome because of it’s short run time. But at the end of the day, the fact that it’s gimmick subtracts more than it adds leaves it too much in the hole for me to recommend it.