We’re living in weird times and that means we get weird movies… or at least we get movies that are trying to do something different. That’s kind of what Locked Down attempts to do. The film, from director Doug Liman, was filmed during the pandemic but unlike a lot of the other content made during this period, some of the actors are actually in the same room. It’s a strange amalgamation of pandemic filmmaking and traditional movies.
The film itself is an amalgamation, too: part rom-com, part drama, part morality play, and part heist film. The movie strives to deliver a little bit of everything. The most interesting slant here isn’t how our two protagonists will pull off their heist but more if they’ll make the decision to do so. In that aspect, the film is pretty original. Most of the time with heist films we’re simply asked to cheer for the thieves and the drama comes from how the heist is pulled off. Here, the heist is secondary to nearly everything else.
Does that mean it’s no longer a heist film?
Director: Doug Liman
Release Date: January 14, 2020 (HBO Max)
Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Linda (Anne Hathaway) have been together a long time now but just before the UK’s first lockdown started, Linda broke up with the morose Paxton, who has spent the past decade or so flailing around after a criminal conviction upended his life. The pair are stuck inside with each other, picking at each other’s nits and trying to get along. Both are facing some big life decisions and coming to terms with a lot of stuff thanks to the pandemic. That’s when Paxton gets a job driving a bunch of riches from the famous British store Harrod’s, including an insanely valuable diamond… that Linda happens to be in charge of. The pair discover that they can pretty easily steal the diamond, keeping it out of the hands of an evil billionaire somewhere, and making them rich, while donating some to the NHS. That is if they choose to steal it.
A lot of Locked Down rides on the charm of its stars. Hathaway and Ejiofor bounce off each other wonderfully and the pair basically carry the film as the only two actors in the same room together for most of the movie. The film is littered with cameos, of course, but they’re all done via Zoom calls. Thus the likes of Ben Stiller, Mindy Kaling, Dulé Hill, Stephen Merchant, and more all show up but they’re mostly talking to a screen. The screenplay gives everyone enough character and the actors are good enough, but it is all in stark contrast to the wonderful chemistry between the two leads.
That would all be fine if the tone of the film didn’t suddenly shift into something more lighthearted. Blending drama and comedy is, of course, something films do all the time but with Locked Down, it feels like they are less blanded and more glued together. As the heist starts to permeate into the story’s plot, the pair’s antics become more rom-com and less drama. While the charisma of both actors still works, the storyline doesn’t hold on as well. That’s especially true as the pair tepidly go through with their heist plan, deciding to let “fate” determine if they will steal the diamond or not in the exact moment they have the chance to.
It is, actually, an incredible idea for a heist film. The fact that a moral quandary would act as the lynchpin of a heist’s success is a brilliant idea, especially during a time when morality has come into such question in society. Unfortunately, Locked Down never spends the time to develop this quandary enough. It’s too caught up in its other genres to really hammer the idea home, making the big decision feel far less like an important one and before concluding the entire thing in a big, comedic speech. Its characters also aren’t set up for it, with both being well off and often preachy so that their moral debate feels more like a luxury than a necessity – the equivalent of rich white people telling poor minorities that money doesn’t matter.
Liman should be applauded for pulling the film together. The plethora of cameos are probably easier to land when all the actors need to do is sit down in front of a Zoom call and it’s pretty clear he called up a few friends to make the film. However, he also took advantage of the actual pandemic, filming in an abandoned Harrod’s and having Ejiofor cruise around a mostly empty London. It’s something a small-budget film like this usually wouldn’t be able to pull off but something that was done easily thanks to the unique circumstances it was filmed under.
Locked Down is probably best taken as the lighter relationship film it partly wants to be instead of a moralistic study on the pandemic and society. As a light rom-com with a heist involved, the movie is perfectly fine and one of those films you might watch just because you were flipping through HBO Max for something to view. The film mostly works because of its leads but underneath it struggles to support its many and varied genres and themes, leaving a movie that feels like it needed to be locked down a bit more itself.