While some TV shows and awards ceremonies have made magic out of the limitations of the pandemic, movies haven’t fared as well. Michael Bay’s Songbird was a misfire, while Netflix’s Malcolm and Marie wasted talented actors on a self-indulgent script. Locked Down was conceived, written, filmed, and edited in around four months from the start of the Covid lockdown for streamer HBO Max. Can this Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor heist help buck the trend or continue the decline?
Hathaway and Ejiofor play Linda and Paxton, a couple living in London two weeks into the nationwide lockdown. The pair were thinking about separating, but now find themselves trapped together just as things are falling apart. Paxton is loudly cracking under the pressure after being furloughed, while Linda struggles to cope as she is asked to make hard decisions on behalf of her bosses.
Out of the blue, Paxton gets some delivery work at Harrods, who are clearing out their inventory due to the shutdown. Linda’s company happens to be organising the clear out, and the couple conspire to steal a £3million diamond that is due to be sold to a private collector. As their plan builds, they find purpose and some retribution for what the pandemic has taken from them.
The opening scene will ring true to most who see it, as Paxton calls vaguely interested relatives and endures the now-familiar problems of video calling (out of sync audio, frame rates dropping). Liman, an excellent visual director who brought us Edge of Tomorrow and Swingers, works these modern inconveniences into the edit in a way that will raise a grin of recognition.
That grin will quickly disappear, however, as we spend more time with our stars. Paxton and Linda are not nice people, or at least hard to sympathise with. Paxton moans and Linda seethes, both exchanging personal jabs and huffing at each other. Hathaway’s personal struggles involve the affections of her sister-in-law (Jazmyn Simon), while Ejiofor laments the impending sale of his motorbike. The award winners try their best, but let’s face it, there are more compelling Lockdown dramas on your street than on this screen.
They also live in a modern, luxurious townhouse that is so large both can easily avoid each other, retreating to the large garden to scream if it gets too much. It is feasible within the plot (Linda is a CEO of a fashion company), but anyone who has been confined to studio flat for a year it’s hard to feel too sorry for them. It also raises questions about the motive – if there’s no danger of destitution, are we just following rich people who break the law out of boredom?
There are moments that hit home before the heist begins. Steven Knight’s script explores feelings of isolation, and how the world stopping led so many to face questions they aren’t ready to answer. We see Hathaway sporting brightly coloured jogging bottoms underneath a professional suit jacket, reflecting the realities of Zoom meetings.
Many will find some truth in Paxton’s longing for purpose, even if the stakes aren’t quite as high for him. There’s also some nice “oh it’s them!” cameos from the likes of Ben Kingsley and Ben Stiller as Paxton and Linda’s respective bosses, Mindy Kaling as her former co-worker, as well as virtually anyone with wi-fi and a free schedule.
However, it’s all just too much of a tonal jumble to hold together. The climactic heist caper takes us inside Harrods (one of the first films to do so), but what should feel like a sweeping finale just passes by with a few jokes and not much tension.
Going from mean-spirited relationship comedy to a heist film is an awkward jump even if everything works, but despite having a backdrop that everyone can relate to Locked Down ends up feeling removed from its audience. There will be some great dramas that reflect on the fear and isolation of the past year, but this came too early to truly judge the tone.
Locked Down is available on demand from 12th March.