“I’ve never been normal. Being locked down is making it worse.”
As you are already probably aware, a pandemic swept across the world in the year 2020 and resulted in numerous countries being forced to enter a lockdown to contain the spread. If you’re reading this review as soon as it has gone online, chances are you’re still in lockdown today, nearly a full 12 months later. That was certainly not what any of us had in mind back in March 2020 when the countries of the west entered lockdown; and I imagine it was certainly not what the producers of Locked Down, a Warner Bros. film that was released directly onto HBO Max and other streaming services, expected when they started to make this… romantic comedy? Heist movie? What exactly is it?
What it is not is what the trailer suggested it would be. The trailer introduces us to Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dr. Strange) and Linda (Anne Hathaway, Ocean’s 8), a couple who were going through serious relationship issues and now find themselves trapped at home together while London shuts down. Paxton is a furloughed delivery driver, and Linda is a disgruntled high-level executive at a PR company, who finds herself in charge of pulling exhibit items from expensive department stores such as Harrods. The result is a plan to steal a diamond from Linda’s own collection, that they might reset their lives and find true happiness. The trailer presents a slick, high-stakes plan, proudly reminding us that this film is from Doug Liman, the man who directed such hit spy thrillers as Mr. & Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Identity.
This is not the movie we were given.
The lead performances in this film are great. Ejiofor and Hathaway bring us an insight into the stresses and uncertainty of early lockdown that is almost too close to home, but they do it incredibly well. The furloughed Paxton is desperately trying to find something that can give purpose to his existence during these difficult times; trapped in his house in a broken relationship, we see him take to the streets to deliver poetry readings to entertain his neighbours, experiment with unusual substances, and intently focus on small, arguably insignificant irregularities around the house – something that was far too relatable to me, as someone who has also spent most of the last year on furlough. He is struggling with who he is and who he is meant to be, and Ejiofor does an incredible job of portraying that, while also keeping Paxton as a likeable character for the audience. This dichotomy is best realised during the frustrating conversations with his boss Malcolm (Sir Ben Kingsley, Schindler’s List), who is the heart of the comedy in this film and expertly demonstrates all aspects of an older, officious boss attempting to communicate solely through video calling, without it ever feeling like a cheap stereotype; all while leaning on all the expected (and some unexpected) aspects that would make up such a stereotype in its laziest form.
Hathway brings a similarly convincing performance in her frustrated executive role, and the dichotomy between Linda’s work relationships and her relationship with Paxton brings us an interesting take on the character; someone who we can sympathise with as she is placed in impossible situations through her work (such as having to make members of her team redundant on a video-conferencing call), while simultaneously maligning herself through her short, aggressive interactions with her Paxton. Scenes of her openly and unashamedly drinking wine while on work calls parallel with her scolding Paxton for his own substance experimentation; and her video calls with her boss Solomon (Ben Stiller, Zoolander) are used to bring more humour to this tense situation; though unlike Kingsley, Stiller is more often the butt of the joke for situational or physical comedy, rather than through his character’s personality – though he does a great job of bringing the archetypal douche-bag rich executive character to life for Hathaway to channel her frustration through.
These supporting roles are mostly short-lived, as are the others from the likes of Paxton’s half brother David (Dulé Hill, The West Wing) or Kate (Mindy Kaling, Ocean’s 8); Linda’s former colleague at Harrods; all of whom are brought in temporarily to highlight the unconventional circumstances that Paxton and Linda are finding themselves in, as much as they are on board to advance plot points. This is very much Paxton and Linda’s story. It’s not until we reach the touted heist do we really even see another named character in the flesh as opposed to over video-conferencing software (with some very minor exceptions); and in many ways, the format almost feels more suited to a live theatre show than it does to a film until we finally reach the night of the Harrods heist. This isn’t a problem, necessarily; it certainly isn’t the first film to feel like a play, and the film isn’t necessarily hurt by that comparison in terms of the performances – the problem is in the aforementioned marketing.
As stated before, this movie is marketed as a slick heist film; something to rival the likes of the Ocean’s series, or something of that ilk. More than half of the trailer is dedicated to the notion of Locked Down as a heist movie; but we’re a solid 60 minutes into the 2 hour run time of this film before Linda and Paxton even start to discuss the idea of pulling a heist; and it’s another 30 minutes before that action starts (and that 30 minute time period isn’t even fully devoted to planning said heist). The opening hour of this film is given entirely to documenting the frustrations the two are feeling with their quarantine situations; and while the plot does quietly drive us towards the eventual endgame in the background of that development, the length of time it takes to get to that point makes this a very different film from what was advertised. I was wary going in about the nature of it; as someone who is still in the throes of a lockdown state, in furlough, my fear was that if that was anything more than an establishing frame for the heist, it may be a little too much – and I’m sorry to say that I was right. It was hard work to maintain focus on such a barrage of these scenarios that reflected my own situation; and while we go to the cinema looking for characters to empathise with and connect to, there was just too much of my situation being shown to me through Paxton to allow me to fully disconnect with real life and immerse myself into this film. Add to that the disappointment of the eventual heist; with only around 20 minutes of that 2 hour runtime given to its execution and an ever-growing set of scenarios which didn’t really make a lot of sense as it was happening, and I found myself struggling to remain engaged with this film as we reached the climax, including during the actual heist portion. This is even more disappointing given that this script is from Steven Knight, whose 2013 film Locke, starring Tom Hardy, is a masterclass in how to demonstrate human isolation (the film is entirely set within the central character’s car as he drives across England at night); so to have another piece with such a similar premise be so drastically different in quality is a real shame.
Locked Down is a movie with two great central performances, and an array of solid supporting roles that the film itself cannot do justice to. A slow-paced narrative provided unexpectedly as the result of misleading marketing does not do this film any favours, and while there is an interesting, well-acted piece of relevant drama within, the nature of it makes it uncomfortable to watch and engage with. If you’re a fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor and/or Anne Hathaway then this is a film which may pique your interests; but if you’re looking for a cool, sleek heist movie then you would be much better off watching the likes of Inside Man than Locked Down. If you really want to check this one out, I would advocate waiting at least until you’re allowed outside again, so you can shake off the uncomfortable familiarity of quarantine; but even that might not be enough to save this one.