Too soon, guys
Nice try, guys. But it’s still a bit too soon. Locked Down is the first major COVID-era studio film to tackle that stir-crazy high anxiety of living through a global pandemic. No, it’s not a metaphor in the form of a zombie apocalypse or some near-future sci-fi dystopia. It’s literally about two frayed lovers stuck in a house together, logging on and off of Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime to maintain jobs or stay connected with family. And everyone looks miserable. Only trouble is, I literally just spent my day videochatting, too, before plopping down in front of HBO Max to then watch movie stars do it. Escapist, this is not.
LOCKED DOWN ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Doug Liman
Written by: Steven Knight
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Stephen Merchant, Mindy Kaling, Lucy Boynton, Ben Stiller
Running time: 118 min
Anne Hathaway is Linda, a briskly competent American exec heading up the UK division of global conglomerate Miracor Media. What Miracor does isn’t exactly clear, although it definitely helps with fashion-related media events at department stores, because that’s what happening in this movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor is Paxton, Linda’s erudite British lover, who recites D.H. Lawrence and Robert Graves but weirdly drives a van for a living. They’re mismatched, which at first wasn’t a problem because she liked that he was a wild biker. But now he’s selling his motorcycle because he lost his van-driving job during the recent coronavirus lockdown. Their relationship is kaput and they’re profoundly unhappy. But they’re two weeks into the start of the pandemic, and they’re trapped together.
Did I mention this is a caper flick? You wouldn’t know it, really, until the 75-minute mark, because it otherwise comes off as Mike-Leigh-adjacent upscale humanist miserabilism on a fairly posh London block. Lots of arguments, lots of drinking, much moping and cursing and confessional speechifying. But bear with it for an hour or so, and you’ll notice that Locked Down starts showing a pulse. You might even call it fun. Not fun like Ocean’s Eight, the other Anne Hathaway jewelry caper film on HBO Max. But still kind of sweet.
Lots of recognizable actors pop up in Zoom cameos, like Ben Stiller and Mindy Kaling. Sir Ben Kingsley even makes a FaceTime appearance, chewing his way through a thuggish lowlife accent and sounding like he’s calling from the set of Sexy Beast. Goddamn, now that’s a crime flick. And Kingsley is brilliant in it, spouting profanities with hilarious, terrifying abandon. You might want to stop reading right now and watch Sexy Beast instead. It’s also streaming on HBO Max. Kingsley first appears at 19:19. I know that, because I just checked right now.
The caper in Locked Down is barely a caper and the loot isn’t particularly heart-stopping. In this case, it’s a Zippo-sized gem called the Harris Diamond, valued at a hardly breathtaking £3 million. This single item of loot is on display at the luxury department store Harrod’s—or, rather, its replica is on display, with the real diamond safely safed nearby. The movie doesn’t really explain why the real one even needs to be on site but out of sight, even though the fake one fools everyone. But it helps with the plot, so sure.
The head of Miracor brokered a sale of the diamond to a filthy-rich bad guy who’s the head of a bad country, does bad things, and apparently is buying the diamond as an investment that he’ll squirrel away in a Wall Street vault for decades. Linda has the task of safely transporting the gem from Harrod’s to Heathrow. But she hates her job and her life. So she feels justified in swapping the real gem for the replica and then cashing out. A few years ago Paxton served time for an unfortunate situation that was not his fault. So he’s owed, too. And during that time, he met someone who can sell the diamond. Even better.
All of this is to say that Locked Down does a fairly convoluted job at trying to turn its earnest domestic drama into a snappy heist, but it more or less succeeds. Liman has always had a deft hand balancing pathos with absurdity, and he metes out just enough charm among all the dour bickering to keep the mood light if not buoyant. And Steven Knight’s script does a novel job winding his current-events narrative through all the logistical production restrictions yoked to pandemic moviemaking. It’s a noble attempt at a near-impossible task.
Locked Down is fundamentally a soul-searching romance about people stuck in their lives, trying to get unstuck. It also captures a moment in time when stuck people everywhere want to get unstuck. But right now its themes of gnawing inertia just feel redundant. Maybe, once we’re all unstuck, we might grow to appreciate the mirror it’s holding up.