The world-changing impact of the coronavirus pandemic has infiltrated every part of life from business closures to global politics to personal interactions.
Cinema has been forced to retreat online in order to find its sheltering audiences and with it, the eventuality of films directly confronting our shared new way of life has finally materialized.
Director Doug Liman – based on a script from Steven Knight – brought together a team of filmmakers to produce the first of what is likely to be numerous small dramas filmed during and/or about COVID-19 pandemic restrictions with Locked Down.
Premiering on HBO Max January 14, the film stars Oscar winner Anne Hathaway and Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor as a couple stuck in their London flat for an undetermined amount of time right after Linda ends her relationship with Paxton.
The first half of Locked Down is an intimate character study with Hathaway and Ejiofor internalizing a lot of the emotions that being confined at home for health and safety purposes can do to a relationship, especially a deteriorating one.
When Liman and Knight take the screenplay in a hard left turn at the end of the first hour, Locked Down becomes less interesting as a feature and more intriguing as a concept of filmmaking, causing the audience to wonder how COVID protocols allowed for scenes to be shot in the first place.
Hathaway shines in a performance that allows her to be as vulnerable as she was in indie drama Rachel Getting Married and as charming as her turn in Ocean’s Eight. Hathaway revels in the ability to master sharp dialogue with a perfect punctuation that seals audiences in the moment and it’s in Linda’s long self-absorbed monologues that Hathaway brings Knight’s screenplay.
Her chemistry – or intentional lack thereof – with Ejiofor’s Paxton works brilliantly throughout the first hour of Locked Down as Liman introspectively comments on how pandemic lockdowns bring people together and tear them apart.
Ejiofor brings a cool distance to Paxton that keeps the audiences at a distance much like how the character pushes everyone away from him, a sort of aimless wallowing that men put on furlough felt as they weren’t sure how to proceed with their lives in the short term, let alone amid the “midlife crisis” outside the world of pandemics.
Liman makes exceptional use of pandemic restrictions to bring in a talented supporting cast filming over Zoom in a way that rings true to the film’s setting and plot, while maximizing creativity as a filmmaker during challenging shooting conditions.
The film makes exceptional use of Ben Stiller and Ben Kingsley in limited scenes as Linda and Paxton’s respective bosses with Kingsley’s heavily religious character providing much needed comedic levity to a largely cold monotone drama.
For a movie conceived during quarantine and shot during September 2020 under strict protocols, Locked Down is a remarkable feat of cinematic achievement for putting together such a visually intimate, yet dynamic feature. Social distancing, mask wearing (or not) and the other little eccentricities of life during a pandemic are present throughout the background of Liman’s film because events during filming were that exact same way, perfectly documenting this unique moment in time with a fictional premise at the foreground.
Perhaps the best cinematic benefit to shooting Locked Down under heavy restrictions is the access Liman and his team were provided to take over everything from fancy London apartments to empty downtown streets to a deserted Harrod’s department store, settings far too impossible to recreate on a set and worse still to clear a shoot.
And yet, the emptiness of public settings in this specific moment in world history is perfectly encapsulated in the second half of Locked Down when Linda and Paxton venture outside their home and into the void left by a deserted city.
While it certainly won’t rise to the level of Malcolm and Marie, Sam Levinson’s upcoming drama for Netflix shot in one location during the pandemic, Locked Down captures the moment of time that the world isn’t out of yet and centers a unique, original tale about the end of relationship and the last flicker of hope that makes it worth checking out on HBO Max while cooped up at home.