‘Locked Down’ is a mildly entertaining but feeble pandemic production

Illustration of Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor's characters in "Locked Down," striking classic spy poses, by Aishwarya Jayadeep
Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

It doesn’t take much to characterize the desolation of lockdowns and seemingly endless quarantine brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. HBO Max’s “Locked Down” paints a lucid picture of the isolation, existentialism and economic downturn that followed orders to stay at home, all while maintaining a much-needed air of humor.

Centered on a recently separated couple forced to live together during London’s early lockdown stages, “Locked Down” is a whirlwind of emotions and all-too-real pandemic-generated scenarios, from Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) awkwardly FaceTime-ing with family to Linda (Anne Hathaway) letting go an entire team at her company. 

“Locked Down” hits all the bases when it comes to reminiscing on early pandemic circumstances. The level of detail in the film is impressive, down to the clusters of hand sanitizers on the table, jarring emptiness on the streets and people mulling about in their houses, only seen through their windows. In particular, the film’s creative incorporation of Zoom calls makes audience members feel as if they are in the call themselves, complete with lagging, echoing voices and dreaded frozen screens. And it wouldn’t truly be set in pandemic times without the unsettling number of people with masks below their noses — or not on at all.

Grappling with isolation and the onset of depressive episodes, these quarantine tropes are scattered throughout the film in a painfully realistic way, with Linda’s chaotic, wine-fueled breakdowns and Paxton’s recitation of yearning, Maya Angelou-esque poetry to his ambivalent neighbors. And yet, the film establishes a sense of lightness that prevents the darker moments from feeling overwhelmingly real.

If “Locked Down” had continued on this path for the rest of the film, it would have been a success. But somehow, the film is categorized as a heist film, and it all goes south from there. The crime plot brewing underneath waltzes in halfway into the movie, with Linda and Paxton, due to fate magically aligning, deciding to steal a £3 million diamond from Harrods. Or rather, Linda forces Paxton to join her in stealing the diamond in a desperate bid to free herself from the mess that has become her job.

Overall, the crime plot is rushed, unclear and entirely thrown in, though it pretends to be significant in the fabric of the film. The reasoning behind the theft feels arbitrary at best; it’s a sudden, awkward change of heart for Linda, who’s normally disgruntled with her life, but not motivated in the slightest to do something about it. The actual heist only takes place in the last quarter of the film, and a large chunk of it is just Linda and Paxton underhandedly taking food from Harrods’ Fresh Market Hall (which is more exciting than the actual crime plot playing out).

If there’s anything that makes “Locked Down” worth watching, however, it’s Anne Hathaway, and Anne Hathaway alone. Her acting is dynamic, full of emotional highs and lows and tangible frustration stemming from the circumstances surrounding her character. Even when the camera is trained up close on Hathaway’s face, there isn’t a single moment of blankness that crosses her ever-twitching eyelids. Oh, and the cameos from Ben Stiller, Stephen Merchant and Ben Kingsley were charming as well.

But apart from Hathaway’s effortless performance, “Locked Down” still boils down to a confused quasi-crime-comedy that just doesn’t work out. The plot of Paxton and Linda carrying out a jewelry heist masquerades as the main storyline coming to fruit, but it simply begins much too late, when the film has already established itself as solely focused on the lives of two unfortunate lovers during the pandemic. “Locked Down” is almost entertaining and almost gratifying in how everything seems to come together perfectly, but it’s this unnatural sequence of events that ultimately lead to its demise.

Contact Pooja Bale at [email protected]. Tweet her at @callmepbj.