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Pick this "Locke"

In this one-man show, Tom Hardy is key

"Locke" locks you and Tom Hardy in a car.

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We all have to make difficult decisions in life where it's not a matter of making the right choice so much as it's a matter of making the least horrible choice. Buy a new roof or repair the old one? Clean the basement or the attic? Little Caesars or DiGiorno?

In Locke, the latest from writer-director Steven Knight, construction foreman Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) faces such a decision. He's slated to supervise a very lucrative contract in Birmingham, England, he has a baby on the way and he has the love of a good woman. Actually, Ivan has the love of two good women: his wife Katrina (Ruth Wilson) and his coworker Bethan (Olivia Colman).

Guess which of them is carrying the little bundle of joy.

When Bethan unexpectedly goes into labor, Ivan all but abandons his family and his job to make the two-hour drive to London to be with Bethan. Along the way, he faces the staggering tasks of admitting his indiscretion to his wife, walking his assistant Donal (Andrew Scott) through complicated construction procedures and providing emotional support to Bethan.

This is a man struggling to keep way too many plates spinning while an entire china cabinet falls on him.

There's a lot going on in Locke. We don't actually see any of it, but neither does Ivan. The story unfolds entirely through the phone calls he makes and takes during his trip. Apart from that, it's just Ivan and the open road - with the audience riding shotgun. It's an unusual tactic, but this is a rare instance when telling rather than showing makes for a more realistic and immersive experience. By denying viewers a more traditional and omniscient story perspective, Knight essentially casts them as hitchhikers in Ivan's car sharing in his complicated life.

Hardy loses himself in Ivan Locke so thoroughly, I had to double-check this was the same actor I watched try to cripple and out-mumble Christian Bale's Dark Knight a couple summers back. Here, having grown out his hair and ditched the gas mask in favor of a Dexter series finale beard, Hardy accomplishes what actors who've been in the business twice as long still struggle with: He makes you believe he's an everyman. Action stars typically don't excel at this; they've built their careers on being larger-than-life. Jason Statham can't do it. Ditto Stallone. Schwarzenegger definitely can't. Charles Bronson could, but he's dead now. Tom Hardy not only does it, he makes it look easy.

(And really, should we expect anything less from Sir Patrick Stewart's evil clone?)

We're with Ivan Locke for every agonizingly tense kilometer of his drive to London, but his real destination remains a mystery. Is he driving to his salvation, or to his damnation? Perhaps it's not so black and white. What if it's a hazy middle ground every bit as gray as Locke himself?

Wherever he's headed, when you're traveling with Locke, it's gonna' be a bumpy ride.

LOCKE, opens Friday, June 6, The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, $4.50-$9, 253.593.4474

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