A film set during the height of a COVID-19 lockdown was inevitable. Although the experience itself may vary, no one can deny the deep frustrations that came from quarantining from friends or family. But the same can be said for those quarreling couples who are trapped together in the same household, just like Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Linda (Anne Hathaway) of HBO Max’s newest heist comedy Locked Down. While a warring couple making temporary peace with each other to steal diamonds sounds entertaining for the streaming age, the film hardly displays any sympathy for those who have genuinely suffered during the pandemic and makes light of the hardships by going off on some fantasy heist.
Shot during the early stages of quarantine, “Locked Down” finds a world falling into madness where people are buying toilet paper in bulk, relapsing, getting fired, or getting sick with the virus. It’s a terrible time for everyone. And the frustrations haven’t reached a boiling point as the characters display a kind of blissful ignorance to the threat the virus possesses. But for Paxton, he has fallen on hard times after being furloughed from his delivery truck job. Additionally, any career ambition he had was ruined after being convicted of assault for defending a man who would have killed. Paxton identity crisis worsens as he makes the difficult decision to sell off his bike as a means to find a new place to live once the quarantine orders are lifted.
As for Linda, she must deal with the repercussions of terminating loyal high-value employees from her multimedia company. She must also reconcile that she is getting promoted as her friends are losing their jobs while also telling terminated co-workers that they are family. This puts her in a compromising position as she sees sending this kind of message as tone-deaf.
It gets to the point where Paxton finds himself reciting poetry at odd hours of the night while Linda is banging pots and pans in unison with her fellow neighbors. It’s complete madness. And even they try to find strength with the help of their community. It’s clear that the lockdown will destroy both of them if they don’t break out of their bad habits and get away from each other.
None of this is easy for anyone, especially for Paxton and Linda. The warring couple was on their way to splitting up before the British government ordered the lockdown. But fate extends its hand to them and allows the two to make peace as Linda’s company needs to use Paxton’s delivery service employer to secure a valuable diamond. Together, they hatch a scheme to pull off this heist as though it will help ease their conscience and make a statement against capitalism.
While heists are these fantasy schemes to make money while also sending a message, “Locked Down” lacks all of those charms and delights of one, even with the help of a great duo like Ejiofor and Hathaway. The film’s isolation creates a great stage play feel. One can’t help but be drawn into their orbit as they descend into a maddening monologue caused by being imprisoned in their own home due to the pandemic.
In fact, the heist portion of “Locked Down” feels like a footnote as the film is focused on Paxton and Linda’s relationship. Even though they are frequently at odds with each other, they both display a kind of compassionate concern for each other’s well-being, leading many to believe this is just another love-hate relationship.
It’s unclear if Steven Knight’s script was designed to be like that, but between the odds cuts and the Zoom calls, the film finds itself to be in disarray. As the monologues and conversations aren’t filmed in long-shot takes but cut to focus on the speaker. It’s far too distracting and takes away from the emotional impact of happening in the scene.
The Zoom calls, which are filled with meaningless cameo appearances, take nausea to a whole other level. These calls don’t feel organic and are more of an excuse to sneak in a cameo into the picture. While some of the calls reveal the most challenging parts of what it’s like to live during a lockdown, other calls show us how cold and conceited the 1% can be as they fire their employees with ease.
Using these calls and addressing the subject of job termination reveals an awareness to the virus. However, the tone of the calls are cold and show us how disconnected the performances are. What’s worse is that I honestly don’t understand why they just skipped that process and recorded these parts separately. If it works for VO films, then why not approach these the same way. Then there is how some of these zoom calls are presented. There is our perspective of us watching Paxton face-timing a caller. Watching his tablet shake as the person on the other end is also moving the camera is the worst kind of shaky cam.
That takes us to the diamond heist, which is too elaborate and coincidental for its own good. Knight’s script uses the pandemic not only as a means for Paxton and Linda to work together but as something that could help them make amends as they part ways. The problem is that the film wants us to accept the coincidence that Linda’s multimedia company just so happened to hire Paxton’s delivery truck service to procure and secure a priceless diamond safely. And that is just the first stage as Paxton and Linda devise their plan so quickly, the film expects us to believe that something like it could work.
In a time that could use more lightheartedness and humor, “Locked Down” reminds us about the worst moments of living in quarantine by revealing the worst from humanity and pretending that a justified diamond theft is enough to distract us from the hardships of the pandemic. When in reality, the latter doesn’t work at all and comes off as tone-deaf.
“Locked Down” premieres on HBO Max on January 15, 2020