Locked Down, 2021.
Directed by Doug Liman.
Starring Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ben Stiller, Stephen Merchant, Dulé Hill, Jazmyn Simon, Mark Gatiss, Mindy Kaling, Ben Kingsley, and Lucy Boynton.
A couple attempts a high-risk, high-stakes jewelry heist at a department store.
People, including loved ones, are not meant to be around each other 24/7. If there’s one takeaway about human interaction from the current health crisis it’s that, and while director Doug Liman’s and screenwriter Steven Knight’s Locked Down is sort of being marketed and sold on the quarantine heist aspect, at its core, it’s very much a movie about a couple on the verge of separation exploring the positive and negative impacts of a fractured relationship forced to spend time with each other constantly. It also needs to be said that Doug Liman and Steven Knight are a cohesive pairing, with the dry humor and lived-in observations of pandemic living coming alive off the page, whereas the direction takes advantage of this unique script to shoot an unorthodox robbery.
Linda and Paxton (respectively played by Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor) have simply fallen out of love; she wanted a bad boy biker at the time she was feeling rebellious, now with Paxton functioning as the polar opposite reciting poetry for the entire neighborhood. It’s a character trait that pays off for multiple hilarious lines when Paxton is inevitably given an Edgar Allen Poe alias, although that’s better left discovered for yourself. He’s also in a depression slump having never really been able to recover from one poor decision in his past years of reckless behavior while Linda has found success as an integral part as a CEO of a shady business.
There’s a great scene where Linda has to furlough a bunch of her coworkers over a video call, which is darkly humorous and representative of real-life with the character being self-aware she’s actually doing a horrible thing and should probably distance herself from the corporation. Meanwhile, Paxton receives a fortuitous opportunity to become a driver amidst his slight criminal record. The crossover is that Paxton will be handling a rare diamond from the business Linda is associated with, with the two coming to the realization that rebelling and stealing the diamond for themselves (while planning to give some of the money received to hospitals upon selling the actual diamond) could reignite the flame and save their relationship.
The filming of Locked Down naturally becomes the biggest hurdle, but proves to be easily doable with a Steven Knight script and unsurprisingly so given he once made Tom Hardy driving around in a car by himself for 90 minutes engaging. It’s not so much a series of arguments between Linda and Paxton but a cross-analysis of their relationship up until this point that’s going to feel relatable for some and amusing for everyone else. At times, some scenes seem to go on a bit too long and the movie can feel as if it’s rambling (I’m also not sure this needed to be two hours), but there’s also the sensation that director and writer have successfully adapted to the situation to tell a story that knows how to playfully entertain by way of a crisis we are actually living through without falling into a pitfall of offensive garbage. Locked Down may be saying things most of us have already figured out for ourselves during quarantine, but the talent behind and in front of the camera is compelling to watch.
It’s also pleasant that a likable array of supporting players have been assembled to pop in over Skype calls and other software, ranging from Ben Stiller’s coldhearted superior to Linda, Ben Kingsley giving Paxton a second chance at a working life once quarantine ends, Mark Gatiss as one of Linda’s disgruntled coworkers, all the way to some brief appearances from Stephen Merchant and Claes Bang. Although, it is mildly bothersome that some characters forgo using masks in public when it feels like they should be on, and I’m not sure if it’s done so viewers know who the actors are or if it’s because in the logic of the movie the characters have been tested and are not sick, but it’s noticeable and offputting. Simultaneously, movies are not realistic and this might just have to be something we have to learn to accept about pandemic cinema moving forward.
Digressing, as Paxton and Linda start to emerge from their relationship funk, they have to actually decide if they want to go through with stealing the diamond on the spot while carrying out their respective jobs. Some aggressive music from regular Doug Liman composer John Powell adds to that suspense, whereas the planning itself of the operation is anything but formulaic for the genre yet still more than cinematic enough to work. The fact that everyone off to the side is real citizens of London also adds a layer of authenticity propping up a story that is ridiculous albeit in an observant manner. There is a fun, thoughtful piece of work and then there’s throwing shit at the wall hoping something sticks because someone had an idea for a quarantine story. Locked Down is a winning demonstration of how to properly execute pandemic cinema; thread something real into the escapism that’s not too escapist.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com