VOD film review: Locked Down
Ivan Radford | On 11, Mar 2021
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ben Kingsley, Mark Gatiss, Lucy Boynton, Lucy Boynton
Watch Locked Down online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Sky Store / CHILI / Microsoft Store / BT TV
“Not only is everything not okay. Nothing is okay.” That’s Linda (Anne Hathaway) in Locked Down, Doug Liman’s lockdown film about a couple navigating their way through a mandatory curfew together – while drifting apart. She lives with Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor), her partner of 10 years, but after a decade of being with each other, the prospect of being with each a second longer has lost its appeal – so two weeks of being shut up in the same house isn’t exactly good news. What ensues is a frequently dark, occasionally funny tale of a relationship being pulled to pieces and reassembled. Also, there’s a heist.
If that sounds like a bizarre mix of film genres, you’re not wrong – Steven Knight’s script isn’t sure whether it wants to be a blistering account of life during the coronavirus pandemic or a fun, throwaway crime flick. The result is not enough of either, with the script practically split into two parts – you could almost recut the footage into two entirely different 80-minute films.
The domestic drama has a ring of truth to it, as Doug Liman takes us into their privileged London home. The handheld camerawork can sometimes be distracting, be it reinforces the claustrophobic feeling of a couple with nowhere to go. There’s a manic desperation to the outbursts of humour, which Anne Hathaway delivers with a frantic, frayed edge – we watch as she begins to despise what her job represents, while still trying to keep things civil during online meetings, repositioning her computer to hide the glass of wine on her desk. Chiwetel Ejiofor, meanwhile, carries a hangdog weariness on his inner poet shoulders – he goes out into the street reading TS Elliot aloud to the neighbours, dreams of riding his motorbike one last time before selling it and jokes about his growing sense of existential ennui.
It’s a quirk of fate that leads them to consider the idea of taking advantage of a high-value courier job that lands in Paxton’s lap. That actual heist is a wonderfully breezy affair, taking us with some sense of escapism out into London’s deserted streets, gliding through the food court of an empty Harrods and revelling in the chance for cameos by actors that aren’t just on Zoom.
Director Doug Liman undoubtedly has blockbuster thrills up his sleeves, but he’s also a filmmaker who enjoys letting things loosen up around the edges. The Bourne Identity, Mr and Mrs Smith and even Edge of Tomorrow share Locked Down’s fondness for hitting pause and keeping things low-key enough for his actors to do more with their characters than just go along the genre rails. He’s also managed the most authentic depiction of lockdown on screen to date, capturing so many tiny details from the awkward tensions of queuing outside a supermarket to the lag that you get on a video call and even the framing of a non-tech-savvy character – none of which are explicitly addressed but simply tolerated by characters who have given up trying to fix things.
It’s a shame, then, that Knight – who has penned Serenity and Burnt as well as Locke and Peaky Blinders – often descends into florid dialogue to communicate what our couple are going through. Even Ejiofor and Hathaway, who can dispatch lines with a casual sincerity, struggle with some of the more verbose monologues that rob some interactions of authenticity. That, in turn, impacts the pacing, making the sudden momentum of the final act a moment of relief as well as release.
But that tonal disconnect is, in many ways, the most representative thing of what everyone has had to endure during the pandemic. The on-the-hoof nature of the whole production – written in summer 2020 and filmed in the autumn – captures both the frustration, doubt, loneliness and despair of being in lockdown and the improvisatory, innovative means people have come up with to keep themselves entertaining, distracted and sane. If that spontaneity ultimately defines the lockdown genre in its own right, it’s no bad thing. The result is a downbeat screwball caper that could only have been made in 2020. Watching it, you’ll be annoyed, entertained and cringing in recognition. “Nothing is OK,” declares Linda in one video call. “We are fine,” claims Paxton in another. The film itself is somewhere in between.