In less than a year, the Zoom ring sound takes me out of a movie more than a Wilhelm scream does. My adverse reaction to this isn’t Locked Down’s fault, as the wave of movies directly inspired by 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have already begun to creep onto our screens with titles like Host, Songbird, Coastal Elites, and Death to 2020. That the Doug Liman-directed Locked Down took more than a month between conception to release definitely puts it an edge above the aforementioned films (aside from Host, which was alright), but all the polish that 3 million dollars and strict quarantining rules can provide still don’t make up for a story with barely anything of value to say about the hellish never-ending March we’ve been in for the past year.
Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor star as Linda and Paxton, a married couple in London on the last leg of their union when quarantine hits, trapping them together to slowly and agonizingly wait out the worst chapter of their rocky relationship. As their divide grows, opportunity strikes when Linda’s company tasks her with securing a diamond on display in Harrods so it can be sold to “a very bad man”. She decides to throw caution to the wind, and the unlikely duo plan a heist, switching out the real diamond for a fake one, cashing out, and going their separate ways. Things go as you’d expect.
Off the bat, what shocked me the most about Locked Down is how long it takes to get to the actual premise of the film. 90 minutes into the almost 2 hour film and they haven’t left their house. That’s because most of the film’s length is spent in romantic comedy mode, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but that romantic comedy energy is spent on Zoom calls with the large supporting cast with almost nothing to offer. Ben Stiller, Ben Kingsley, Mindy Kaling, Stephen Merchant, Dulé Hill, Lucy Boynton, Jazmyn Simon, and Mark Gatiss all appear in this film, some of them for excruciatingly long sequences of talking squares on a screen, with only Gatiss and Boynton’s characters having any sort of meaningful impression on the plot or tension, and even then, it’s not much. Locked Down is stuffed to the brim with this sort of filler, grinding away at the chemistry and goodwill brought by Hathaway and Ejiofor’s performances until there’s nothing left to care about. The actual heist isn’t bad, it’s goofy and simple, but the machinations of the heist are brought so late into the game that their introduction becomes an inevitability and a relief rather than any sort of surprise.
I’m not convinced we’ll ever get the prestige film set during the COVID-19 pandemic, but if we do, it’ll have to be made with some perspective and reverence for the tragedy and the time it took out of all of our lives, something that is impossible to do while we’re still in the middle of it. It’s like trying to pump out United 93 in time for a Spring 2002 release, it’s a poor idea, and one that fails both as an enlightening piece of art and as simple escapism; the worst way to forget your bad situation is to watch pretty people complain about the parts of your situation that you got over by May. Toilet paper jokes and the like abound in Locked Down, functioning almost as an adorably quaint reflection of the ravenous panic in the first few weeks of quarantine before the proper desolation and ennui came in to infect us all.
Screenwriter Steven Knight said that he wrote Locked Down over July 2020 on a dare, and it shows. It’s a movie with no passion, a nearly nihilistic romp through the distant past that never dares to discuss any meaningful perspectives or new ideas surrounding the still gushing open wound of its premise. It’s not a terrible film, just one that coasts on while hundreds of thousands of bodies are laid at the doorsteps of the filled morgues, cooling in the January air. It’s a misguided and lazy film, sure, but I’m confounded as to why it even exists. Are Liman, Knight, and their cast and crew just so hungry to work? If so, it’s almost charming seeing a film like this come to fruition, like these extremely successful benchmarks of success are trying to craft a future out of tin foil and plastic bags like a high school broadcasting class. On that level, it betrays how the hunger to make good art wanes with the tides of success; on the more cynical level, it shows us that nobody really cares about what they’re putting into the world anymore.
D+ Review anne hathaway ben kingsley ben stiller chiwetel ejiofor coastal elites death to 2020 doug liman dule hill host jazmyn simon locked down lucy boynton mark gatiss mindy kaling songbird stephen merchant steven knight united 93