Plot:  Just as they decide to separate, Linda and Paxton find life has other plans when they are stuck at home in a mandatory lockdown. Co-habitation is proving to be a challenge, but fueled by poetry and copious amounts of wine, it will bring them closer together in the most surprising way.

Review: Films and TV series set during the COVID-19 pandemic have been a mixed bag so far. Some have worked, like the Parks and Recreation special, while others (Songbird, Death to 2020) have been underwhelming. Doug Liman and Steven Knight’s LOCKED DOWN falls into the former category as a smart, funny, and timely look at the perils of quarantine that we have all gone through with the added twist of a heist plot that elevates this to an intriguing little movie. Hitting screens at just the right time, Locked Down is a perfect encapsulation of the 2020 experience with some excellent performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anne Hathaway.

Filmed in London in September 2020, it is impressive how quickly this movie has been assembled, especially considering that Doug Liman’s next film, Chaos Walking, was filmed three years ago and has yet to debut. Nevertheless, Locked Down comes from a script by Steven Knight and has all of the hallmarks of being written during this pandemic. Knight’s earlier film, Locke, made sparing use of Tom Hardy in a car talking to all other characters by phone, and Locked Down feels similar. Here, couple Linda and Paxton are on the verge of mental and romantic breakdowns as they struggle with quarantine. All of their interactions are with each other or via Zoom sessions with family and coworkers. In short, Locked Down looks and feels like what we have all been doing ourselves for the last twelve months. Even though it starts two very attractive actors, Hathaway and Ejiofor do an admirable job of looking as miserable as the rest of us.

comedy, thriller, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anne Hathaway, Ben Kingsley, ben stiller, Locked Down, 2021, review, HBO Max

For the first two-thirds of the film, Locked Down plays like a stage production. Ejiofor’s Paxton is a convicted criminal who has struggled to find meaningful employment while his partner Linda (Hathaway) is an executive of a global corporation. Both are experiencing the pandemic lockdown in London and we find them as Linda has told Paxton she is leaving him as soon as quarantine ends. Their ten year history together weaves in and out as they both struggle with cabin fever and the challenges of being furloughed and having to fire people during one of the biggest crises in recent memory. Liman and Knight tackle everything from day drinking to Zoom connectivity issues, bread baking, and toilet paper shortages without the pandemic itself being invasive to the story. For much of the running time, Locked Down works as a relationship drama set during the coronavirus outbreak.

These Zoom sessions make great use of the supporting cast including Ben Kingsley, Mindy Kaling, Dule Hill, Jazmyn Simon, Claes Bang, Mark Gatiss, Stephen Merchant, and Ben Stiller. By featuring all of these actors remotely, production on this movie was able to focus on Hathaway and Ejiofor within close proximity to each other without needing to worry about social distancing. The in-person production gives their scenes together with a sense of immediacy and both actors share quite a bit of chemistry. Definitely an opportunity for both to run through everything from relationship drama to funnier romantic moments, both leads are enjoyable to watch and keep the film moving quickly. For ninety minutes, the movie feels like a solid character study while I kept waiting to find out how this turns into a heist story. which doesn’t kick in until the final act.

comedy, thriller, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anne Hathaway, Ben Kingsley, ben stiller, Locked Down, 2021, review, HBO Max

With their relationship dynamics make for good comedic and dramatic moments, the film then adds in the heist element. Doug Liman keeps things light as they execute their plan. It is worth noting that through the film, we see many shots of a vacant London and the film ends with an empty Harrod’s department store populated only by staff mostly wearing protective masks and maintaining social distancing. I never really felt that the stakes were that high but the smart dialogue and Liman’s approach to filming these sequences manage to keep you wondering just how everything is going to end. The heist ends up arbitrary to the main story that Locked Down is trying to tell and pulls away from what is otherwise a well-executed story. 

Locked Down works well far better than other 2020 pandemic films because it tells a story that happens within current events without needing to make a big statement about the world at large. Decades from now, audiences may not relate as well to this story with the pandemic a memory but Steven Knight and Doug Liman have captured what COVID-19 turned the world into this last twelve months without making the virus a character. I doubt that we will suddenly see pandemic-set films of every genre, but Locked Down works well enough despite some plot points that don’t really work. Worth checking out for Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s solid acting, Locked Down is a fun and well-made movie that will make this pandemic feel a little more normal for a couple of hours.

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