CAST: Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Stephen Merchant, Mindy Kaling, Lucy Boynton, Dulé Hill, Jazmyn Simon, Ben Stiller, Ben Kingsley, Mark Gatiss, Claes Bang, Sam Spruell, Frances Ruffelle, Katie Leung
RUNNING TIME: 118 mins
BASICALLY…: During the COVID-19 lockdown, a couple (Hathaway and Ejiofor) attempts a hisk-risk jewellery heist at Harrods…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Is COVID-sploitation actually a thing now? Between Songbird and now Locked Down, has Hollywood really latched on to the zeitgeist of the pandemic like it’s the trendiest fad right now? Sure, there’s been some good movies made in lockdown such as Host and Malcolm & Marie, but those movies barely had anything to do with the virus beyond being filmed remotely with several social distancing measures in place; now, it seems, we’re getting starrier casts on board of narratives that take full advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, largely as a means to get work in an industry that’s largely been shut down during its harshest months.
I’m not sure how I feel about such a topic that’s been on all of our minds for just over a year now being mined for Hollywood entertainment like this, especially seeing how awful and tasteless Songbird was. Having now seen Locked Down, I’m still not entirely convinced by its prominence in modern-day storytelling, because while it’s not as misjudged or exploitative as Songbird, you can still feel the strict limitations placed on these filmmakers and writers as they try and largely fail to do something worthy of their on-screen talent. It also doesn’t help that it’s a rather sanctimonious and dull piece of writing by Steven Knight where characters barely feel like characters and more like miserable mouthpieces for Knight’s rambling rants about the lockdown, completing wasting actors who are very literally phoning it in (or, more accurately, Zoom-ing it in) and, just like lockdown itself, giving them absolutely nothing to do.
Set in London during the first nationwide lockdown (supposedly during March/April, even though the leaf-swept streets clearly indicate this was shot during the autumn of last year), our two leads are Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Linda (Anne Hathaway), a couple who have decided to call it a day with their relationship, and are only still living together because COVID-19 dictates that they cannot go anywhere. Their days are spent either talking to relatives or work colleagues on Zoom, or arguing with each other because they are both miserable with their lockdown situation, their jobs – even though it appears she’s in a seemingly well-paid CEO position at a fashion company – and ultimately each other. It’s not until Paxton’s delivery driver boss (Ben Kingsley, in one of many cameos made over Zoom, Skype, FaceTime etc) sets him up with a gig to transport priceless inventory from shut-down department stores like Harrods, which Linda is coincidentally overseeing for her job, that the two realise that they could potentially pull off a heist in plain sight and make off with a diamond said to be worth £3 million.
Before Locked Down becomes the heist movie that was undoubtedly the selling point of this movie (aside from the fact that it was shot entirely in the middle of the pandemic), Knight’s script dilly-dallies frequently with tiresome monologues about everything from cigarette habits to Christmas tinsel that hasn’t been taken down yet. Not only does it feel extremely stagey, as though Knight originally wrote this to be performed in a theatre once they’ve reopened (a lot of it is, after all, mostly set in one location), but the dialogue is so pompous, with its fanciful idioms and infatuation with the sound of its own voice, that it’s as if you’re hearing someone read aloud their lengthy Facebook post that’s littered with dour statements for the purpose of getting dozens of likes from people scrolling through their timelines. Unfortunately, you also have to put up with its two unlikeable and unsympathetic leads who do nothing but bicker with each other and moan about how rubbish their lives are, even though they live in a rather nice London house together and seem to get by on a good income with her apparently high-ranking job (the film also tries to get us on Linda’s side as she expresses guilt over firing people due to the pandemic, but even this falls flat because if that’s the worst thing about her job, then what on earth does she have to complain about?).
This would be the part where I’d say that at the very least, the actors were doing their best here despite the eye-rolling material, especially since there are some very fine actors like Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anne Hathaway among this cast, but even their performances seem somewhat off here. They never once feel like real people, and more like they’re just giving a performance, as though they’re aware that a camera is on them and an audience is watching them from afar; the way their inflictions and enunciations are, it’s like they’re under the impression that they’re on stage instead of in front of a socially-distanced film crew, and it kills any believability you may have initially had for these people we’re supposed to be watching for almost two hours. That isn’t even mentioning the number of actors pointlessly brought in to record their entire parts over Zoom and FaceTime, with the likes of Ben Stiller, Mindy Kaling, Mark Gatiss, Stephen Merchant and Claes Bang playing small roles that could have easily been played by anyone, except it’s these rather big names for some reason (also, given how it’s directed by Doug Liman, I don’t know why but I’m honestly surprised that he didn’t sneak in Tom Cruise for a sneaky cameo as well).
With all of that in mind, one thing is clear: for a lockdown heist caper with some big names attached to the cast and crew, Locked Down is a rather big let-down. Even with numerous restrictions in place, there still could easily have been a way to do this kind of movie interestingly and in more entertaining ways, but the way that it is from its self-righteous writing to overly self-aware performances, it’s an unfortunate waste of potential.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Locked Down fails to capitalise on its intriguing pandemic heist selling-point by instead wasting precious time on extremely pompous monologues and unsympathetic characters as written by Steven Knight, where even the performances from a mostly-wasted ensemble cast seem all too self-aware and struggle to make their parts feel real or even entertaining to a lockdown-weary audience.