Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lucy Boynton
Comfortably rich and locked down due to COVID-19, catastrophic narcissist Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his former partner Linda (Anne Hathaway) are imprisoned together in their beautiful London townhouse. Paxton enjoys binge-drinking, pretending to off himself and shouting poetry at his poor, suffering neighbours. Linda (the wealthy one) fires people over Zoom. In a commendably succinct opening 20 minutes, director Doug Liman gives us ample fodder to hate these two for the duration of his deeply tone-deaf quarantine crime thriller. Unfortunately, these are the people we’re supposed to root for and there’s still another 90 minutes to go.
The pandemic has caused a number of industries to grind to a halt, but the compulsion to create ‘content’ has continued apace. I’ve come to detest how frequently and snidely creative endeavour gets called ‘content’, but here? Here it fits. Locked Down, filmed during the first round of restrictions and teased out of Steven Knight’s (one assumes) hastily assembled first draft amounts to nothing more than excruciating filler. If the good intention was to quickly make something that resonates with our continuing crisis, then that’s fast turning out to be a very special road to hell. Either we’re too close or we’re over-exposed, but the amount of enjoyment passable from an overlong drama of claustrophobic bickering has turned out to be particularly slim.
Linda is the main breadwinner of the household; Paxton’s presently a furloughed van man. Her connections at Harrods and his sketchy new cash-in-hand delivery job allow them convenient access to the famed department store just when it needs to relocate £3 million worth of jewelry. The laziest of heist movies is born out of this ridiculous opportunity.
Poor Anne Hathaway has become a kind of vectoring force for cinematic disasters of late, but if only Locked Down aspired to the levels of insanity achieved by Knight’s own Serenity – a masterpiece of unintended hilarity compared to this marathon of minor irritations. Distracting cameos from Ben Kingsley, Ben Stiller and more do nothing to improve things, effectively shattering any sense of reality that’s been established… mainly thanks to the commitment of Ejiofor.
Fair credit to him. He is perhaps more animated here than we’ve ever previously seen him, swearing and ranting his way through Knight’s loquacious tirades; a mirror to John David Washington’s Malcolm from another recent and similarly disastrous lockdown film. Take that as you will. Hathaway joins him there, eventually, but it takes over an hour for Linda to shake off her white wine hangover and get a little zeal in her step.
And it takes longer still for Locked Down to leave the confines of 61 Portland Street. There’s maybe 30 minutes’ worth of amusing material here total, but its stretched to the point that Liman seems like an actual sadist intent on slow-murdering us. Even when the couple are supposed to be hot-footing it around Harrods, Liman opts maddeningly for no sense of urgency. Knight’s attempt to pepper the piece with comedy amounts to tiresome snark, extended diatribes and a weirdly persistent bit about Edgar Allen Poe that comes off like he’s genuinely upset about something. By the time Linda is maniacally banging pots and pans together in gratitude for the NHS, you’ll be seriously considering cancelling any and all subscriptions, just in case another proffers more COVID-themed ‘content’ toward us.
This scene encapsulates some of the awfulness at the empty heart of Locked Down. It mocks token gestures that are more self-congratulatory than they are materially helpful, but then the film itself is dedicated to the NHS, because of course it is. The stench of disingenuousness is a little strong.
Locked Down seems like an easy target, trapped as we remain, looking for reasons to vent our discontent. Except it is genuinely tiresome. It wallows bitterly in the exhaustion of confinement, succeeding only in making you wish all this weren’t happening even more than you already are. Somehow, Linda and Paxton’s begrudged time together manages to feel even longer than any of the real lockdowns we’ve been collectively enduring. They’re here to warp hours and worsen days.
“The lockdown will eventually end…” Paxton winsomely ponders at one point. “After lockdown…” Linda muses at another. These phrases have come to sound like cursed prefixes of late. So-called normality feels like the football Marcie keeps tugging away from Charlie Brown at the last minute. But nothing’s quite as cursed as Liman’s interminable career low, which feigns gallows humour but feels as though it barely masks a deep-seated and directionless resentment of middle-class inconveniences.