With a premise that’s, in turn, both brilliant and absurd, Locked Down is the latest attempt to capture part of the neverending spiral that is living through the COVID-19 pandemic. Operating, for the most part, as a two-hander between Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the film is largely restrictive by design. And while we’re finally starting to see filmmakers push the envelope when it comes to exploring different kinds of stories one can tell within the confines of the pandemic, Locked Down struggles to balance the tone between a character drama and a heist movie, both of which provide plenty of anxiety (albeit in different ways).
DIRECTOR: Doug Liman
STREAMING: HBO Max
A couple on the verge of splitting up are forced to continue living together amid London’s COVID-19 restrictions in the early days of the pandemic as a series of events leads them to attempt stealing a diamond worth £3 million. Part interpersonal drama and part comedic heist, it’s often fun but struggles to balance the two tones together.
If you watched the trailer for Locked Down and thought that you were getting a straight-up COVID heist movie—or, in some ways, an unofficial sequel to Hathaway’s previous heist movie, Ocean’s Eight—you might want to temper your expectations a bit. In the hands of director Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) with a script from Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders), Locked Down takes a slow and steady approach to its central heist (almost too slow at times), choosing first to immerse you in some of the familiar trappings that accompany lockdown life, even if it’s not the experiences you had.
Sure, there is a throwaway joke about baking bread and the concept of time no longer existing, but the realities of COVID are much starker for Paxton (Ejiofor) and Linda (Hathaway), whose 10-year relationship more or less fizzled out before the pandemic arrived in London; the mandatory more or less made them stew in it. Paxton was furloughed from his job as a truck driver, so he’s stuck at home all the time.
Linda, on the other hand, has a secure job as the head of the London branch of a media company, but she’s put in the terrible position of having to lay off several of her colleagues. Those colleagues see her as the enemy because she was the messenger, but when she chats with her out-of-touch bosses—one of whom wanted Linda to include the euphemistic descriptor of “family” and “leaving the nest” when breaking the news that they’d no longer have a job—she feels wholly out of place.
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Like many couples whose relationships fractured during the pandemic, some of the issues that Linda and Paxton faced were already present before the arrival of a deadly virus. Paxton’s career prospects were already limited due to something that happened a decade ago, while Linda started to question why she stayed in a job she hated. And Hathaway especially chews up the scenery and unique messiness that comes with living through a time like this.
As we spend more time with them, Locked Down centers in on the isolation of their quarantine, which is sporadically interrupted by a Zoom meeting or a video call with family or colleagues (which often suffer from connection issues), an interaction with a neighbor, or a trip to the grocery store. At night, Paxton steps onto the street of his quiet London neighborhood to read poetry, telling Linda that “I’m entertaining our fellow inmates” when she objects. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson contracting COVID-19 is among the touchstones generally dating the film.
Completely reexamining one’s life, Linda explained to Paxton during one of their arguments, seems to be a side effect brought on by COVID. In the Before Times, they might not have pondered stealing a diamond worth £3 million (around $4,091,370) from a display at Harrods, London’s famous luxurious department store. But even the early days of the pandemic—long before we would learn of the vast government ineptitude—have started to put some things into perspective.
How we arrive at that point is clunky, both within the script and in its execution, and Knight’s script—which might’ve benefited from a few more passes before filming—doesn’t do the transition from a character dramedy to a flat-out heist any favors as it drags itself toward the end with a series of contrived scenarios, even by the standards of the heist genre. But the bigger problem, for me at least, is more of a feature than a bug: the inconsistent COVID protocols within the film.
Locked Down wrapped by the end of October, so while the COVID protocols while making Locked Down were stricter than the time period depicted in Locked Down (masks weren’t required in the U.K. until July), the inconsistency of mask-wearing within the context of the film is enough to take you out of the film. One of the anxieties that come with watching a film that was made before COVID-19 or was made during the pandemic is watching a crowd of people without masks, and it’s hard to wonder if Linda and Paxton, who are wearing masks as they arrive at Harrods, can pull off their heist as they go through a security checkpoint when most of the staff at Harrods aren’t wearing masks. Instead, you’re worried about them potentially creating a superspreader event with their heist.
We’re still living through the COVID pandemic for the foreseeable future, so at a certain point, the movies about COVID are naturally going to get more creative. And while Locked Down doesn’t completely work, the idea of a COVID heist is a good start in that direction.
Locked Down is now available on HBO Max.