When it was revealed the often-fantastic Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Edge of Tomorrow”) was planning to make a COVID heist film, it didn’t take long to get entirely on board.Even when Liman’s films miss the mark critically, as with “Jumper,” you’re at least guaranteed to be entertained.
Where last month’s COVID-23 thriller “Songbird” felt tone deaf and exploitative, hopefully the subject matter in the hands of a more adept filmmaker would lead to better results.
With a cast made up of Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ben Kingsley, Ben Stiller and more, “Locked Down” seemed too good to be true in the current scarcity of new releases. Add in the fact that the film was written and produced during the pandemic, put together on a budget of $10 million, and filmed in just 18 days in London, and suddenly that too good to be true is sounding more and more accurate.
The film starts by introducing our two leads, Linda (Anne Hathaway) and Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as they attempt to cope with the lockdown. Living in lock down is not easy on anyone – or any relationship – and it just so happens that these two were already on the ropes before the lock down hit. Now, since neither of them can leave the house, their disdain has left them living on separate floors.
These early bits of life in lockdown serve as an attempt to relate to the audience, and on the surface, it does just that. However, the first 50 minutes of this “heist film” is entirely focused on these two in their home. There’s only so much bickering, complaining and Zooming before you start to wonder if this really is a heist film after all.
For what it’s worth, Hathaway and Ejiofor are extremely good, which should come as no surprise considering the pair’s respective track records. After a few recent flops, Hathaway actually turns in some of her best work in recent memory. Because the dynamic between the two leads is so complex, there was enough at the beginning to feel compelling, despite simply plodding through the lockdown with the duo.
The boredom didn’t seep in until about an hour later when there was still no mention of a heist or an item that could even possibly possibly merit being stolen. At this point, it’s clear expectations must be tempered. “Locked Down” is a romantic drama about a couple trying to reckon with their fading relationship while also examining what brought them together in the first place. The heist itself feels like an afterthought.
Written by Steven Knight (“Serenity,” “Peaky Blinders”), known for dark characters and bleak outcomes, “Locked Down” seems to be missing some of that magic. Perhaps the hurried schedule kept him from having time to fully flesh out the characters, because despite spending more than enough time with Linda and Paxton, the film never really examines anything past the surface. Instead, it’s all just trite, everyday nothingness – Paxton brooding in his room searching for a remedy to his insomnia, Linda dealing with downsizing at work as a result of the pandemic. Neither one is particularly likable, and the more we see from them, the more the film falters.
When it actually comes time to put the heist together, everything feels hurried. The often-intricate planning phase lasts all of five minutes, and the heist itself is thoroughly disenchanting. After the idea first strikes Linda and she ropes Paxton into the scheme, the focus shifts to what the operation means to the relationship, pushing the heist itself to the back burner. As a result, the stakes don’t seem quite as high, and the only emotion felt regarding the outcome is indifference.
“Locked Down’s” best moments come thanks to its supporting cast – if you can call them cast members. Glorified cameos seems more fitting. Still, it was great seeing actors like Ben Stiller and Sir Ben Kingsley be downright silly, with Kingsley having some truly laugh out loud moments with Ejiofor. It’s not enough, though, as the few moments of levity do not make up for the multitude of offenses throughout the film.
With two leads who aren’t the least bit compelling, a drawn out first two acts, and no discernible plot development, “Locked Down” is a film that should be avoided – even now.
“Locked Down” is now streaming on HBO Max.
Film critic and member of the North Carolina Film Critic Association.