In the two dozen movies he’s made since his first small role in “Black Hawk Down” twelve years ago, Tom Hardy has established himself as a chameleon, disappearing into characters as physically different as the hulking, monstrous Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” the often-naked psychopath in “Bronson,” and the sharp-dressed identity thief in “Inception.” With all that gaining and losing of muscle and weight, it’s easy to forget that Hardy is a superb actor, too.

“Locke” is our reminder. Set entirely in an automobile with Hardy as the only person on screen (we hear other characters talk to him on the phone), it’s a one-man show, dependent entirely on Hardy’s performance as a man whose personal and professional lives are in danger of crashing down around him. Since he’s driving, there isn’t much Hardy can do physically; his face, hands, and voice are his only acting tools. (A nice touch: the character has a cold, and his occasional nose-blows and NyQuil gulps add to his frazzled demeanor.) Yet despite the limitations, we’re absorbed in his story, anxious to see how (or whether) his problems are resolved. This Tom Hardy fellow is the real deal, folks.

He plays the title character, Ivan Locke, a Welsh-accented Londoner currently driving to a hospital a few hours away, where a woman named Bethan (voiced by Olivia Colman) is about to give birth to a baby he fathered. At home, his wife (Ruth Wilson) and two sons are expecting him for a football game on the telly. You will note that Bethan and Locke’s wife are two different people. He hadn’t intended to have these delicate conversations now, on his bluetooth on the highway, but events have caught him off-guard.

He’s also dealing with a work-related crisis. A huge concrete project his company is supposed to start tomorrow at dawn has hit a bureaucratic snafu, and his bosses (he works for a multinational building corporation) will have his head if it doesn’t go as planned. So between all these calls to his wife, his sons, Bethan, and her doctor, Locke has to track down the co-workers and city officials who can save the project and his job.

It’s a stressful time, to put it mildly, and though Locke speaks with the calm clarity of a born problem-solver, he starts to crack under the pressure. He has a one-sided argument with his long-dead father about Fate — about whether our life’s path is set in stone once we make certain choices, or whether we can improve the future regardless of what we’ve done in the past. Locke is an optimist who believes that doing the right thing now will make some good come out of the wrong things he did before. His father had a different outlook. Locke is determined not to let his mistakes ruin his life. It’s a philosophical debate worthy of a certain other Locke.

The filmmaker is Steven Knight, a writer (“Eastern Promises,” “Dirty Pretty Things”) who made his directorial debut with last year’s little-seen Jason Statham drama “Redemption.” A movie about one guy driving a car is a daring attempt for a sophomore effort — logistically easier (and cheaper) than most movies, but with a much greater risk of turning into a dull, stagnant mess. Visually speaking, there isn’t a lot Knight can do to keep things interesting without resorting to look-at-me camera tricks (which he thankfully does not). But his screenplay is sufficiently engaging on its own, like a breathlessly paced piece of live theater excellently performed by a skilled actor. We’re glad to take this ride with Hardy, and eager to see where he’ll go next.

B+ (1 hr., 25 min.; R, a lot of harsh profanity.)

Originally published at About.com.