I wrote a review (which is now up on mauiwatch.com) just two days ago on the Michael Bay produced “Songbird”. The first movie shot in Los Angeles during the Covid-19 outbreak, which sees the virus mutated into the even deadlier Covid-23. The virus and pandemic was used as the launching pad for the pandemic action thriller that is set three years into the future. I said in my review that it was only a matter of time, before our current state of the world with the Covid pandemic, would make it’s way to Hollywood.
Up until now, the pandemic has fallen into the Hollywood gimmickry, such as the Shudder original zoom hosted horror film “Host” or the outright exploitation of the aforementioned “Songbird”. Now here comes the HBO Max original “Locked Down”, that incorporates and comments upon the realities of the lives we are currently living. It’s not the first movie to explore life in the pandemic, but it is the best one of the bunch.
“Locked Down,” which premiered on HBO Max on January 14th, stars Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor and is directed by Doug Liman. Liman who went from indie director to action director is the man behind “Mr & Mrs Smith”, “The Bourne Identity”, “The Edge Of Tomorrow” and “American Made”. Here he directs his most character driven effort, in what feels like one of those modestly budgeted movies that director Steven Soderbergh (“Oceans 11”, “Traffic”) is so known for. It does come off more as a Steven Soderbergh film, than of a Doug Liman film.
Director Doug Liman and screenwriter Steven Knight (writer of Matthew McConaughey’s “Serenity”) conceived the movie in July of 2020, sold it in September and had completed shooting it in London, by the end of October. They turned it around nearly as quickly as Steven Soderbergh did with his film “The Girlfriend Experience”. Soderbergh’s shoestring drama shot at the end of 2008 in response to the global economic meltdown.
“Locked Down” takes place in early 2020 and London is in the middle of going into lockdown. Being in lockdown is the only reason that Paxton (Ejiofor) and Linda (Hathaway) are even still living under the same roof. She fell in love with him on the back of his motorcycle and there was a time when they would road-trip through exotic locales, but now instead of passion there is only resentment between them. She’s stuck moderating Zoom meetings for an international conglomerate that she loathes with each passing day, while Paxton can’t go to his job as a truck driver. A job that he doesn’t want, but is the only job he could get because of his criminal record.
Paxton then gets a call to be rehired to drive goods from London department stores out to storage facilities in the countryside, while Linda is tasked by her superior (played by Ben Stiller) with taking a multi million diamond that her company has been in charge of keeping on display at Harrod’s and shipping it to New York, where its buyer will keep it locked away. This will give Paxton and Linda a chance to take advantage of the pandemic to pull off a jewelry heist while transporting the diamond from the Harrods department store.
For a solid ninety minutes, the movie is a character study between Paxton and Linda, while the heist itself doesn’t kick in until the final act of the last thirty minutes. Doug Liman, was able to direct in the real Harrods (The first time that’s ever been done. Something they could do only because the store closed down during the pandemic). You may not buy every detail of how the heist comes off, but Liman and screenwriter Steven Knight does an ingenious job of building a heist thought up by two ordinary people. There is a funny bit of Paxton’s boss (played by Ben Kingsley), who has assigned Paxton the fake name of Edgar Allan Poe and Knights script makes great comic use in the way it plays out.
The theft is really just a stand-in and a way for Paxton and Linda to take stock of themselves and think about what they’ll do once their lives are freed from the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s clear that our lives will be different when and if this health crisis is over and “Locked Down” wants you to contemplate those changes.
“Locked Down” is a testament to the skills of the actors, particularly Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor who are in every scene. Steven Knights screenplay allows Hathaway and Ejiofor to attack their characters as if they were acting in a stage play. Ejiofor and Hathaway make a great pairing and absolutely click together as a couple, who think they’ve reached the end of their rope, only to discover that maybe they haven’t? Ejiofor, has been one of our finest actors in the past decade or two and has always been a master of understatement. While Anne Hathaway, hasn’t been this great in awhile.
“Locked Down” uses now everyday Covid-19 rituals such as: corporate Zoom calls, socially distanced lines to get into supermarkets, the falling into old addictive habits (in this case: smoking and guzzling wine) and how two people stuck in the same house talk to the point of becoming a desperate self therapy. Both writer Steven Knight and director Doug Liman have captured what Covid-19 had turned the world into within the last year without making the virus a character. Liman knows how to balance issues of societal change, with a heist and love story that is smart, funny and a timely look at the perils of quarantine that we have all gone through and are still going through. It’s the first great movie of 2021.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)