Locke is a road movie with a difference – not to mention an enormous contrast to Need for Speed, which is the last heavy car content film I reviewed on MSN Cars. Simply put, Locke stars Tom Hardy and a BMW X5, and that’s about it.

To say very much more than this would actually be to give away the, ahem, driving force of the plot – if you can even call it that. But we join Hardy’s character Ivan Locke as he leaves work and climbs aboard his SUV. For the next hour and 25 minutes we then follow his journey along the UK’s motorway network as he deals with a sudden crisis in his life via the Bluetooth function of the X5’s iDrive system.

Literally all you see for the duration of the film is Hardy driving – the other characters only appearing as names on the central display screen and voices over the in-car phone connection. Given that Locke is a man seriously involved with concrete in the construction industry, this sounds like it should be an instant cure for insomnia. But it is, in fact, quite extraordinary.

Hardy’s performance is fantastic. Ok, so the Welsh accent seems to have a life of its own, but it’s not Jason-Statham-does-American bad, and this aside his portrayal of a sensible (boring?) man dealing with the fallout of a single mistake is – yes, let’s go there – spellbinding. The realistic complexity of personality and emotion done brilliantly well, captured for nearly every one of those 85 minutes.

The film would not work without this level of acting agility. But writer-director Steven Knight, together with director of photography Haris Zambarloukos, also manages to cast the motorway at night into something almost magical. Eerie, haunting, call it what you will, but there is mesmerising beauty here, true ‘film as art’ stuff.

Locke is not a movie you’d watch again and again. But it is most definitely a movie you should see at least once.

From a car buff perspective I’ll add a few additional notes. This is not an action movie – so don’t be fooled by the trailer. It’s one man’s emotional journey having a stunning visual affair with after-dark motorway driving.

Regular cinema goers might not notice this in the same way, but from the perspective of someone who lives and breathes cars, the opening few moments so are hilariously like a BMW advert I actually burst out laughing. There are close crops on badges, iDrive screens, the works. But you quickly realise the X5 isn’t the latest model, and relax a bit. The car was placed via an agency, however.

The actual shooting process of the film was rather unusual. The whole thing was shot in five weeks, with the principle photography taking place over just eight nights. Only six of those were with Hardy, talking to the faceless voice actors – who include Ruth Wilson, Olivia Coleman and Andrew Scott – via a phone line to a nearby hotel room. The film was shot in its entirety every time, with Knight telling the cast to “treat it as a play”, and deal with any mistakes along the way.

The X5 was mounted with its wheels off on the back of a low-loader, for obvious safety reasons. Although it’s mostly set on the M1, the film wasn’t actually shot there, as low loader filming isn’t allowed on the UK motorway network by the Highways Agency. A privately owned section of the A13 was used instead, with the production “traveling circus”, as first assistant director-turned-producer Guy Heeley puts it, escorted by the police for additional wellbeing.

It is, genuinely, quite a piece of work. If you like interesting, innovative film-making, catch Locke in the cinema while you can. The UK release date is Friday 18 April 2014.

CJ Hubbard, Motoring Research

On Bing: see pictures of the BMW X5 from Locke

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BMW X5 review (2013 onwards)

BMW X5 eDrive Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) review (2014 prototype)

New 2015 BMW X5 revealed

Need for Speed film review

The cars of the Need for Speed movie