Synopsis – A couple attempts a high-risk, high-stakes jewelry heist at a department store.
My Take – Like I had mentioned in my review of the terrible Michael Bay-produced thriller, Songbird, it was only matter of time when filmmakers would try to cash in on the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Though COVID-era entertainment rapidly evolved from Zoom cast-reunion specials and season finales to in-person productions that either reflect the current times, with haphazard mask usage and social-justice storylines, or show life as normal, feature film-making seemed desperate for a new avenue with films like Hulu’s Love in the Time of Corona and Netflix’s Social Distance, that tried to reflect on the situation, clearly not making the cut.
However excitement arouse when director Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) and writer Steven Knight (creator of Peaky Blinders) announced their team up for a heist comedy set during the lockdown led by Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor and some exciting supporting players. With such kind of talent involved this HBO Max film just seemed primed to be a success.
Right off the bat, director Doug Liman takes full advantage of the set up and captures the feeling from early in the lockdown like the disbelief, the quiet panic, and the uneasy resignation. However the end result is also like most of our own quarantine experiences, i.e. erratic, a little absurd and occasionally delightful.
While the film has a refreshing simplicity to it and the two central performances are impressive. Sadly, it’s a lot less timely and funny than the assembled talent could’ve made it with more budget and more time. Sure, the story of a couple in quarantine crisis is really interesting, but the long monologues get really tiring after a while.
Making matters worse, the heist element of the film doesn’t begin for almost an hour. In simpler terms, the film skirts the line between being genuinely entertaining and something to throw on in the background while you’re doing something else too, which in that case, makes this an ideal pandemic film.
Set in March 2020 as the lockdown begins in London, the story follows Linda (Anne Hathway) and Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who have just ended their ten-year relationship but are still forced to live in the same house until the COVID crisis is over. While Paxton is an underemployed van driver after a prison record left him with little opportunity, and spends most of his time excreting his frustrations to his closest confidants, his half-brother David (Dulé Hill), and his wife, Maria (Jazmyn Simon).
Linda, on the other hand, is a successful but overly stressed-out head of an international media company. Though she still cares about Paxton’s well-being, she’s had it with his Eeyore-level negativity. They are cohabiting in a state of mutual bare toleration, sleeping in separate rooms and navigating warily around each other during the day. However, a weird opportunity arises when their careers present them an odd chance in the shutdown city to steal a diamond worth $3 million in cash, and all they have to do is find a way to stand each other again.
It’s an absurd setup, but the plot shenanigans fit with the film’s vibe of personal anguish managed during chaos, heightened by elevated language and a bit of farce that leads to Paxton assuming a false identity as Edgar Allan Poe.
The bulk of the film shows them struggling with the complete upheaval of their daily routines and a lot of time spent together in a confined space. Rather than being depressing or overly nihilistic, the film fills the situation with a dry humor and slight absurdity which, combined with the distance from the beginning of the pandemic, makes the film the best COVID-related piece of media to come out so far. But sadly the film has no clear identity.
The script is more like a quirky drama, but director Liman directs it as though it were a grim, absurdist comedy. This makes for big performances that play to the gallery, with moments that are slightly off. Yet for the most part, the film benefits from the energy of director Liman’s approach. It’s not his fault that the film has a glacial pace.
No director could make rambling Zoom calls into fast-paced, intriguing cinema. But with the relationship of captive lovers bickering before a tackling an impossible mission, you might say this film is the leisure version of his most famous film, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005).
The script, from British screenwriter Steven Knight, pokes fun at these early days often, plucking the low-hanging fruit of Zoom calls, meeting freezes, sourdough starters, and copious amounts of wine. However, the winking attempt to relate to the audience’s year of isolation never lands, primarily due to the inaccuracy and wide spectrum of these experiences. Though most of the west has been stuck inside for nearly 12 months, the isolation, loneliness, and singularity cannot be expressed with a few jokes about bread, work-from-home, and kids coming into the screen during virtual calls.
We have the lure of a heist that feels like a third act that was thrown in at the last minute and a film that focuses on the failing relationship of one couple and the restraints the lock down has on us all. In most heist films, the promise of the robbery hangs over the entire film.
There’s a sense of waiting and anticipation, a hope that the plan will be unfurled and set in motion. Here, that step-by-step scheme never comes, and the heist itself ends up being a meager 20 minutes at the end of the film.
In comparison, the actors seem to be having a good time, even if the people they’re playing are utterly miserable. Both Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor give excellent performances, especially Hathaway, who expertly handles Linda’s gradual unraveling, however, but Ejiofor, too, exults in the chance to throw off his usual gravity. They share great chemistry together and actually felt like a couple who have seen their share of brighter and sunnier days.
The rest of the cast which includes Ben Kingsley, Dulé Hill, Jazmyn Simon, Ben Stiller, Mark Gatiss, Stephen Merchant, Mindy Kaling, Katie Leung, Claes Bang and Lucy Boynton appear only in small roles, with only a few managing to make lasting impact. On the whole, ‘Locked Down’ is a mixed bag of a heist romantic comedy that has its charms yet doesn’t find the right amount of levity in its execution.
Directed – Doug Liman
Rated – R
Run Time – 118 minutes