Locked DownReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/15/21 14:17:53
(Worth A Look)
The last couple of months have seen the first trickles of what is sure to be a deluge of films inspired by or dealing explicitly with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, including the surprise “Borat” sequel, the gross exploitation exercise “Songbird” and such instant documentaries as “Totally Under Control” and “76 Days.” Now comes “Locked Down,” a project which was filmed in a couple of weeks in secrecy, and which boasts a number of familiar names on both sides of he camera and the intriguing premise of the pandemic restrictions being used as the catalyst for a high-stakes heist. The project may have been conceived in haste and may not necessarily stand the test of time but the end result is an offbeat comedy-drama that may understandably lack the visceral thrills that one might expect from a heist-related film but which does a surprisingly effective job of capturing the strange rhythms of life and love in the time of Covid.Set in London, the film takes place a couple of months into the pandemic with the city under lockdown and people slowly beginning to go stir crazy under the restrictions and the need to stay at home for the immediate future. Two such people are Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Linda (Anne Hathaway), a couple whose ten-year relationship was already crumbling before the pandemic and who are now forced to still remain together in the same house until the pandemic situation changes. On the surface, Linda, an executive with an American firm, seems to be weathering things pretty well—while others in her firm are being made redundant, she is being offered promotions—while Paxton, whose feels that his entire life has been dragged down by a criminal event from his past that has prevented him from doing anything of substance, is a delivery driver who is currently being furloughed. However, Linda is just as dissatisfied with her life as Paxton is with his and being stuck with each other in the house during the final death throes of their romance is driving them both to distraction.
Just when things seem to be at their bleakest, a glimmer of hope unexpectedly arrives. Paxton’s boss (Ben Kingsley in one of the numerous star cameos on display) calls him with an offer for a job to remove luxury items from the major London stores and take them to offsite storage. Normally, Paxton would not been allowed to do such work because of his criminal record but his boss is desperate enough to supply him with a new ID and the promise of a new position in the business if he is able to complete the task successfully. As it turns out, Linda is going to be at Harrods that day as well supervising the dismantling of an event that she put together just before the shutdown that featured a diamond worth three million pounds at its centerpiece. It also turns out that she designed the security procedure that will almost certainly catch out Paxton the minute he tries to get inside and cause him to lose his job. She agrees to help him get around the systems and this starts to get her thinking about the combination of circumstances, her disenchantment with her own life and work and her knowledge of the ins and outs of Harrods (where she worked for a number of years) and how they could all be put together in a way that would allow them to make off with the diamond and sell it for enough money to give the both of them a new life and provide a hefty donation to the National Health Service to boot.
Since the promotion for “Locked Down” has focused to a large extend on the heist angle, it is a little surprising to discover that it is not that big of a part of the proceedings—the idea is not even introduced until at least the halfway point—and those going into it expecting “Covid’s 11” may be a bit perplexed by this. The screenplay by Steven Knight, whose resume includes such oddball items as “Dirty Pretty Things” (2003), “Eastern Promises” (2007), “Allied” (2016) and the infamously batshit crazy “Serenity” (2019), has no real interest in presenting the mechanics of an elaborate heist—not only does it drop into the laps of Paxton and Linda practically fully formed and easily handled, it even introduces an additional moral justification for the crime to sweeten things further. Instead of centering on how the two would go about their crime, it is more interested on whether they should seize the opportunity and the attendant ethical dilemma or not. Although this approach may irritate some, I found it kind of fascinating and it adds an additional edge to the proceedings that it might have lacked otherwise once the heist element actually kicks in.
Instead, Knight and director Doug Liman are more interested in presenting a portrait of how the mental and emotional health of ordinary people was being affected in first months of the panic, a period where people were still settling uncertainly into the new reality (such as the use of Zoom calls for everything from confessionals to firings) while still holding out some shred of hope that things would be getting back to normal before long. The tone is comedic but the humor is dry, low-key and often of a discomfiting nature as it taps into feelings of ennui and discontent that many viewer will instantly recognize. Of course, these are feelings and memories that many people may not necessarily want to relive but seeing them embodied by actors as instantly likable as Hathaway and Ejiofor certainly helps. Although the relationship between their characters may strain credibility in some ways, the two manage to sell it—both the irritation that they now inspire in each other at every turn and the affection that they still clearly feel for each other—and their obvious chemistry helps to keep things moving along even as it threatens to drag in a few spots.“Locked Down” is a film that is tied so completely to the current mood that I suspect that future audiences in a (hopefully) pandemic-free world may find it to be more than a bit baffling. While it may not prove to stand the test of time, it has an immediacy to it that cannot be denied and the way that it applies that moods to a caper film template is undeniably intriguing. This may not be a particularly great film but it is a smart and engaging work that takes the particular and peculiar circumstances of the moments and utilizes them in entertaining ways.
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