Film Review – Locked Down
As the Covid pandemic rages on, we find more and more films falling into a specific subgenre detailing how the disease has upended our normal way of living. Most of these stories feature characters staying at home and interacting with others through Zoom or Skype video conferences. Sometimes having a restricted canvas to work with allows for creative solutions, like the horror film Host (2020). Other times, it can lead to bland, lifeless narratives, like Locked Down (2021).
The title doesn’t offer much in terms of subtlety, does it? Written by Steven Knight and directed by Doug Liman, the film follows a disgruntled married couple – Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Linda (Anne Hathaway) – while trapped in their home in London during the early days of quarantine. Both are unhappy. Linda works for a fashion company and has the tough task of firing employees due to budget cuts. Paxton has had difficulty maintaining steady employment due to his criminal past. He gets by working under the table as a delivery truck driver for a shady boss (Ben Kingsley, evoking serious Sexy Beast vibes).
The tension between Paxton and Linda is so high that they can barely stand to be in the same room. Not only is their marriage falling apart but their individual lives have not exactly ended up the way they thought it would. This is particularly true for Paxton, whose criminal past has haunted him to the point of cracking. Being stuck at home certainly doesn’t help, so as a release Paxton occasionally bursts out onto the street, reciting poetry to his neighbors (or as he calls them, “Fellow Inmates”).
Stories about two people stuck in one location is not a new idea, and when executed well can be riveting. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf (1966), Scenes From a Marriage (1974), and My Dinner with Andre (1981) are not in the slightest bit boring, even when they feature nothing but two characters hashing out their conflicts through conversation. Locked Down has the potential to exist in the same realm (maybe even more so given the real-life implications), but Liman and Knight seem too preoccupied with dropping a silly crime/heist plot on top of their narrative. Paxton and Linda come across an opportunity: a department store Paxton is taking deliveries from and Linda’s company is partnering with is safeguarding a rare diamond in its vaults. Given that both have access clearance to the store, they decide to join forces to steal the diamond.
Locked Down isn’t really about the heist. Instead, the heist is used as a starting point for Paxton and Linda to examine their relationship – to see if it has gone past the point of saving. Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor do their best to make these back-and-forth moments work, but the material feels too thin to be substantial. The tone wobbles between comedic and dramatic, preventing us from taking their dynamic seriously. Liman constructs the story as more grounded than his previous crime/relationship outing, Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). In that, he leaned far more screwball. Here – perhaps due to limitations caused by Covid – Paxton and Linda are caught in endless scenes of them bickering only to be followed by a dash of misplaced comedy. We listen to Paxton describe how his life has crumbled since his legal trouble, but then we watch him go undercover using the name “Edgar Allan Poe.” We see the effects of his stress but then it all goes away when he and Linda hatch their plan. Who knew that a possible mental illness can be cured by committing a high-profile robbery?
I’ve been stuck at home myself for almost a full year at the time of this writing. I do my work from the safety of my home office, and all of my interactions with my coworkers is now done over the internet. It’s a strange feeling to watch a movie – even if it’s only for pure escapism – and be reminded of the slow, daily grind of social isolation. Seeing Hathaway and Ejiofor talk to their families and colleagues over fuzzy video chat didn’t make for an engaging experience, especially since what they discuss isn’t very interesting to begin with. The dialogue felt oddly static and sterile. Revelations are made that should have hit with dramatic weight but were so limp that the emotion dissipated rapidly. Paxton and Linda are characters that felt written, directed, and acted as opposed to living, breathing people.
There were some bits of Locked Down that were humorous, such as when Paxton chastises someone for buying way more toilet paper than needed (“How many asses have you got?”). But great parts don’t always equal a great whole. The film’s uneven tone, lack of dramatic urgency, uninteresting characters, and lackluster heist drag it down. It operates as mere background noise to accompany us while we do our chores.