From The Bourne Identity to Mr. & Mrs. Smith to Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman’s scale has come a long way since his smaller-scale breakouts Swingers and Go. With Locked Down, the director’s filmmaking style is pared down once again, focused on a couple quarreling during the COVID-19 lockdown in London. Reminding us he’s more than just an action or franchise director, Liman’s latest finds him going back to his roots, drawing eyeballs with a stacked cast led by Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and supported by Stephen Merchant, Mindy Kaling, Ben Stiller, Dulé Hill, and Lucy Boynton.
Representing an early foray into the idea of pandemic-based studio filmmaking, Locked Down exists in the early days of the outbreak, those in which we were more hopeful than weary, discussing the possibility of it lasting until the summer of 2020. The script, by British screenwriter and Locke (and Serenity) director Steven Knight, pokes fun at these early days often, plucking the low-hanging fruit of Zoom calls, meeting freezes, sourdough starters, and copious amounts of wine. The winking attempt to relate to the audience’s year of isolation never lands, primarily due to the inaccuracy and wide spectrum of these experiences. Though nearly all of us in the U.S. and U.K. have been stuck inside for nearly 12 months, the isolation, loneliness, and singularity cannot be expressed with a few jokes about bread, work-from-home, and kids coming into the screen during virtual calls. Unfortunately, most of us don’t want to relive these memories on another screen, after looking at an even smaller screen for eight hours of our day.
In most heist movies, the promise of the robbery hangs over the entire film. There’s a sense of waiting and anticipation, a hope that the plan will be unfurled and set in motion. In Locked Down, that step-by-step scheme never comes, and the heist itself ends up being a meager 20 minutes at the end of the film. Instead, Liman’s film functions more as a romantic, single-set comedy surrounding this couple, once-in-love and now about to separate. Hathaway’s Linda Thurman––a high-performing executive at a fashion-adjacent international corporation––and Ejiofor’s Paxton Riggs––an ex-convict, ex-biker, now-furloughed delivery driver––are stuck together. Their relationship seems to have hit a point of no return, as Linda spends her days on work calls and opening bottles of wine, while Paxton makes bread, breaks his sobriety with backyard opiates, and reads poetry to the neighborhood. Two of those seem to be incredibly irresponsible, though one more than the other, while making bread is the decision that Linda can’t seem to shake.
That’s a good way to describe Locked Down, which doubles down on its silliness at every turn. Paxton used to be a drug dealer and a possible heroin problem, but the opiates were just a fun experiment. Linda used to be wild and free, but now she’s forced to fire coworkers she enjoys and accept promotions she does not want. “God,” as Linda calls it, brings them together on the night of a supposed pickup at Harrods, and the two decide, somewhat, to pull off a version of a heist of expensive jewelry.
With Paxton wearing a nametag that reads, “Edgar Allen Poe,” and Linda hopping back on the couple’s motorbike, the two make their way into the department store, having a lavish meal in the process. The stakes never actually become too high as the heist fails to feel elaborate or dangerous. Locked Down is much less concerned with the stealing of actual objects, and more focused on the thievery of time, love, security, and freedom from isolation––each of which people experience to varying levels. Hathaway and Ejiofor give a lot to the film, acting with a capital A. In a certain way, they were acting out a rendition of their own realities, the ones they’d been living for the previous months. Their attempts to bring the film up another level aren’t in vain, but the script and direction lets them down in its triviality.
There are flashes of enjoyment and clarity, mostly within the home shared by Linda and Paxton, with Hathaway and Ejiofor showing their chemistry and their willingness to commit to the project. The supporting cast all bring brightness to an otherwise dim situation, with Merchant, Hill, and Ben Kingsley (as a righteous delivery manager) ratcheting up the laughs per minute ratio.
Locked Down won’t cause the memories of the last year to come flooding back, yet it doesn’t find the right amount of levity in these circumstances either. It skirts the line between being genuinely entertaining and a film to throw on in the background while you’re cooking dinner––which, in that case, may result in the ideal pandemic movie.
Locked Down opens on January 15 on HBO Max.