Timely but implausible, stylish but inconsistent, Doug Liman’s “Locked Down” is a modernist narrative that’s setting is during the early stages of the COVID-19 lock down, an amalgam of many tonal shifts: screwball comedy, modern satire, caper film, and marital drama. The result is a mixed–bag, a gimmicky film about a London diamond heist that feels like it was hurried into a final draft as audiences currently want to watch films outside quarantine. Despite a first-rate cast that consists of Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor, “Locked Down” is uneven and a huge disappointment.
Oscar nominated screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things) is a mishmash of many different styles and approaches, with little concern for narrative and plausibility. The undeniable strong chemistry and exchanges between Hathaway and Ejiofor can’t anchor the film away from it’s jarring inconsistencies, which feels like an early draft of a Woody Allen film merged into a heist film with a backdrop of a Covid-19 setting. “Locked Down” will sadly become a dated and forgettable film that holds far greater potential than it holds.
Admittedly, there are a few great staged sequences by Liman, especially the third act at a shopping mall which involves the big heist. But, still even with its setting, familiar plotting, schematics, and some dramatic exchanges the film fails to say anything fresh. And it all becomes just so banal.
Liman, has been a skillfully director, who started his career with small indie films like “Swingers” and Go” who embarked on much larger blockbusters like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “Jumper,” and “The Edge of Tomorrow,” seems to think crafting a film about quarantine was a wise decision, while using many scenes involving Zoom meetings just piles up running time, and come off visually flat. If you recall last year Shudder released the quarantine horror film “Host,” which was also very gimmicky but the Zoom meetings worked for it’s creepiness, where in “Locked Down” they result in meandering conversations that fail to ignite and resonance–even with A-List supporting performances or “cameos” that involve Ben Stiller and Ben Kingsley.
If anything, “Locked Down” echoes the narrative of Liman’s own “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” which was a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 classic of the same title which was about an unhappily married couple who find themselves falling in love once again. It’s a concept we’ve seen done in many films prior, and while the first, and while it’s commanding that Liman and Knight attempt to reflect our modern world, Liman’s final result is dull and extremely conventional.
Clocking in at nearly two-hours, which is very overlong, about 15 to 20 minutes in the third act does impress. “Locked Down” has a passable beginning, but the build-up takes too long, which involves Zoom conference calls, Zoom calls with family, grocery store visits, and arguments involving Hathaway and Ejiofor’s martial complications. The film’s production was during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which sadly is still going on today. While Knight and Liman attempt to explore how the lock down impacts our mental health, the discordant detours prevent it from being anything too resonant and engaging. The film focuses on a couple whose relationship has been falling apart since the height of the pandemic, a package delivery driver Paxton (Ejiofor) has been in a relationship with a major clothing line executive Linda (Hathaway) for nearly a decade. Sleeping in separate rooms, and barely seeing each other they discuss the state of their relationship with family and friends over Zoom calls. When they are around each other their tension escalates which leads them to debates.
Knight and Liman attempt to make the film contemplative and self-reflective. One thing the pandemic has done is that it’s allowed many people to search for answers on the meaning of the human experience.. Paxton, like us, contemplates his own life, a convicted felon who has a difficult time securing work under his own alias due to his past criminal record that involved selling drugs, Paxton is now wiser and is still in love with Linda. While Linda wants to carry through with the separation, she holds a lot of other anxiety and personal torment while adjusting to this new lifestyle.
From there we get commentary on the modern COVID world which involves Linda having to terminate her fellow employees, and Paxton goes to a store as he notices a man hording toilet people in which he confronts “how many arses do you have?” It takes a while for the film to gain any narrative momentum and for a plot to fully surface, one that involves Paxton getting a job under the alias of “Edgar Allen Poe,” which involves him transporting an expensive diamond from Linda’s own company. While Paxton has the urges of stealing the expensive diamond, Linda actually comes up with the idea to steal the diamond as they allow it to be a test drive to test the fate of their relationship. While the film holds some wise and contemplative philosophy on purpose, fate, and meaning of our existence with a hyperreal setting, the film fails to ignite as either a screwball comedy, a caper film or a marital drama with it’s unnecessary encasing of our uncertain times that just never fully adheres.
Ultimately, had Limen stripped away the COVID backdrop and endless Zoom calls the film would have been little more than a screwball comedy about a couple re-examining their relationship and love. While the COVID era adds layers to their own spontaneity and purpose, it leaves you feeling somewhat sour. It doesn’t help that Linda and Paxton have a nice home with income where Linda hands pink slips. While the film aims for realism, the social realism fails to engage and sympathize. All around the film feels gimmicky and sour: Perhaps way too soon, the accomplished actors, the well-intended screenplay, and semi-stylish heist sequence can’t match the realities of the global pandemic.
Perhaps because Limen does too many things that take you out of the film, including security guards and department store workers cramped in the locked down store as they clear out the store without masks just so they can showcase their face on screen feels anything but real. The film ends up collapsing under its own weight with its uneven tonal shifts where quarantine and the pandemic is reduced to a harmless reality, complete with a very happy ending. While the performances are indeed strong, the writing has some sharp moments as well as some aimless ones, and one could argue that the film captures the realities many of us are enduring, but sometimes the films setting feels unwarranted and tacked-on. It becomes a curiosity had the film taken a more carefree approach it might have worked more.