REVIEW: Locked Down Does Not Bode Well for Films Set in the Pandemic
2/5 stolen diamonds.
As we close in on a full year of pandemic living, film and television have struggled to sensitively depict this historic time. And while some television series, like Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet and NBC’s criminally underseen Connecting…, have made cathartic episodes inspired by COVID-19, film is struggling to catch up.
There was last year’s terrible Songbird, a bleak science fiction film about a dystopian 2024, where COVID-23 ravages the world and infected citizens are placed in concentration camps (yikes).
And yesterday, HBO Max premiered its own COVID-based film, Locked Down. The film stars Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor as estranged married couple Linda and Paxton, whose marriage has fallen apart. Thanks to the unfortunate timing of the pandemic, they are forced to reside in the same house as they process their break-up.
But thanks to a confluence of events, the duo find themselves primed to steal an exotic diamond from Harrod’s department store in London. The film is directed by Doug Liman, who gave us action romps like Go, The Bourne Identity, and Edge of Tomorrow. Between Liman’s direction and the strong chemistry between its charismatic leads, Locked Down should have been an entertaining romp.
Instead, viewers are treated to an exhausting and overlong film that feels like a 2-hour identity crisis. Locked Down tries to be several things: a relationship drama, a COVID-19 story, and a heist film. Unfortunately, it fails at all of these thanks to bizarre tonal shifts and endless monologues about pandemic life.
Ejiofor and Hathaway are given long, meaty monologues about their struggles, which they tear into with passion and capital-A acting. Paxton struggles with overcoming his reckless criminal past and maintaining sobriety after a heroin addiction, which has held him back from success. Meanwhile, Linda has climbed the corporate ladder to success, only to find that it is destroying her soul.
There are movies to be made about both these characters and the ups and downs of their relationship. And for the first hour, that seems to be the film you’re watching: a younger, pandemic-set take on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that follows a bickering couple who physically cannot escape one another.
And then the film pivots halfway through as it tries to shoehorn in a diamond heist that brings the two together. The result is a bizarre mash-up that is part Marriage Story, part Ocean’s Eleven. It’s a puzzling film written by Steven Knight, who gave us 2019’s baffling mystery Serenity, which also starred Hathaway.
Though Locked Down would have benefited from picking a lane, its issues run deeper. The film, which was shot last year, already feels dated. And given that it’s set in April 2020, the characters’ endless complaints about lockdown life 6 weeks in are grating and obnoxious.
Then there’s the home itself: a lavish London house with multiple floors and a lovely garden. It’s hard to sympathize with Ejiofor and Hathaway’s “struggles” when they basically share a mansion, while most of us have spent the year stuck in smaller living quarters. After all, if they are already so well off, why do they need to steal a diamond?
The stakes for the story are remarkably low and garner little sympathy, as do its unlikable leads who endlessly pontificate on pandemic philosophy and their broken marriage. What should be a lighthearted caper is instead an exhausting, stagey slog of a film. If audiences will be forced to endure more films set during the pandemic, they’re going to have to be better than this one.
(featured image: Susie Allnutt/HBO Max)
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