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Steven Knight’s tight little drama “Locke” is, without question, a stunt: It takes place almost entirely in the front seat of a BMW, during real time, as Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) drives from Birmingham to London on the M1 late at night. We see no other characters; only hear them, through Ian’s phone headset. And, for the most part, it works like gangbusters.

Ivan’s drive that night will change his life, in several ways. He’s challenged at work, as foreman of a building site on the eve of an enormous concrete pour; fielding calls from an angry boss and a worried colleague. But gradually, we learn the real reason for his nighttime journey: He’s on his way to a hospital, where a woman who isn’t his wife is giving birth to his child — and he must somehow convey this news to his actual wife and children.

Hardy, a chameleon of an actor (you’d never guess this man was Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises”), gives Ivan a soft Welsh accent and an uncanny calm; his quiet monotone sounds like a pleasant recording on a courtesy phone. Mechanically, he keeps saying, as if to himself, that the traffic is OK; he chugs cough syrup, checks his pulse, gazes out through a windshield shadowed by an endless necklace of highway lights. He handles his wife’s fury quietly (“You leave concrete behind you, everywhere,” she says); and calms his girlfriend’s labor anxiety — in his way. “I love you,” she says. “OK then,” is the reply.

It’s a tribute to Knight and Hardy that “Locke” plays so well for almost its entire running time — you can’t imagine any world other than what’s in this car, and you’ll be astonished at how suspenseful conversations about concrete can be — and not too surprising that Knight can’t quite stick the landing. The ending, in which the story and the highway seem to blur away, feels unsatisfying. Up until then, though, “Locke” is a hell of a ride.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or