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‘Locked Down’ Review: Sloppy or Strategic?

Image by Bruno Martins (@brunus)

Culture Editor Alex Blank reviews the 2021 film, “Locked Down”, and reflects on human relationships in lockdown.

Doug Liman’s 2021 film, “Locked Down”, has been written and filmed during the Covid-19 pandemic, starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejlofor as Linda and Paxton whose separation is temporarily put on hold by an illicit plan to make themselves rich. There is always a risk in doing a film about something that hasn’t yet ended, but, on second glance, the story is not really about lockdown. The virus seems to only be a backdrop, though it might still be too vivid in our reality to seem believable if used only as a setting.

Although a light watch as a whole, the plot of the film is somewhat disjointed. The first hour circles around awkward Zoom calls, stifled screams and stock virus phrases (the “difficult times” we live in), and nothing plot-like happens until well half into the movie. Only then it becomes almost a different story, one involving a heist, Edgar Allan Poe and piranhas.

If the perpetual sense of rush was intentional, then I suppose it could be considered quite funny. In the midst of lockdown, we don’t necessarily expect to see a Covid-based film that is about anything else other than the virus. Nowadays, every email begins and ends with “We hope you’re dealing okay in these difficult times”, so no wonder if we expect the same of this film, and the fact that the plot switches so abruptly may either be considered sloppy or strategic.

Is this the future of lockdown films: moving against the stream of stagnation? Comedy, action, fantasy? Comedy, because we certainly need to be able to laugh about this; action, because if we make too many homebound stories, they might become more claustrophobic than the lockdown itself appears to many people; and, perhaps most importantly, fantasy. Is it possible to narrativise this year without a recourse to some variation of fantasy? “Locked Down” gives us all of those, to an extent, though in a rather anticlimactic manner. Again, maybe it’s inevitable, given its subject matter. Maybe the only way to portray such an uncertain time is through awkwardness, mismatch, and of course, an inevitable Zoom call face freeze?

If we might also consider the film to be a romance of sorts – which is how it’s marketed, after all – then the only conclusion or love lesson here is the mushy doing things together brings people closer one. However, if the only novelty available in lockdown is committing a crime, then what does it say about the ways in which we pass the time with one another? If having dinner, a conversation or a walk together is not enough anymore – and many or all of those have been available to various couples living together in lockdown – what is enough?

Instead of judging the movie for its lack of stable and coherent plot, its lockdown clichés or its rushed execution, we might use it to think of our own selves during this time, though I’m aware many of us are probably sick of reflecting in any shape or form at this point. Putting aside our natural need for privacy and alone time, and the inevitable conflicts that arise from a lack of those – if we can’t stand the people around us, why is that? What does that say about our relationships? And if we happen to thrive in isolation, does it mean we had not thrived in the “real” world? (I seem to be one of the latter.)

The film’s setting is certainly not indicative of most living conditions, as it takes place in an affluent London neighbourhood, as well as a luxurious department store, Harrods. This by itself might tell us it’s not supposed to be entirely realistic and maybe not even about Covid-19 at all. As we’re still in the middle of the pandemic, we cannot always differentiate between the realistic and the surreal, and we don’t know all of the long-term impacts of what’s to come; we can only speculate. In this context, the film’s mix of genres, the privileged bubble as a catalyst for never-ending relationship drama, as well as a surprisingly successful ending for both characters, seem like a rather faithful representation of what it’s like not to know what you’re doing, what or who you want, or what you’re capable of.

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