One could be forgiven, after The Dark Knight Rises and Mad Max, for forgetting that Tom Hardy is in fact a superlative actor. And this mesmerizing, one-man existential tour de force is his best work yet. In the opening scene, Ivan Locke gets into a BMW at a major construction site. He has a home, a wife and family, a good job, and money in the bank. When he arrives at his destination an hour and a half later, he has methodically unraveled his entire life, and he has none of these.

The entire “man-in-a-can” movie takes place in the car, the camera in medium close-up on his face as he calmly entreats, cajoles, and explains in a hushed Welsh accent on a hands-free phone why he is morally bound to do what he is doing. Sounds like a gimmick—yet it’s anything but. In a powerful, internalized portrayal, Hardy makes us identify with Locke, and makes the movie work—brilliantly.

Writer and director Steven Knight clearly believes that less is more, but the storytelling here is as tight as it gets and the tension palpable. Interestingly, it ends on a strange note of freedom. Japanese title: On the Highway: Sono Yoru, Hachijū Roppun. (86 min)