At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Locked Down “2021”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Romantic Comedy Crime Caper/Stars: Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Stephen Merchant, Mindy Kaling, Lucy Boynton, Dulé Hill, Jazmyn Simon, Ben Stiller, Ben Kingsley, Mark Gatiss, Claes Bang, Sam Spruell, Frances Ruffelle/Runtime: 118 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review by saying that as to be expected when finding itself staring face to face with a life altering occurrence that has implications for every single person across the planet, the land of movie magic has not let a single minute go to waste in its creative decision to start making movies that have narratives which deal with life during the time of COVID. It’s honestly not hard to see why really; I mean COVID has managed to become a trauma that we all have been impacted by in some shape, form, or fashion, and being artists before anything else (hopefully) film helmers and other visionaries in the entertainment industry have decided to take the opportunity that is dangling right in front of them to use their art form to showcase a better comprehension of just where the human race is at this truly distinct period of time. Of course, there is a downside to this to be found in that the odds are very much in our favor that we as consumers are going to be treated to quite a bit in the way of exploitative cinema on this topic, but hopefully we will also get slices of cinematic pie that negate those out by being both engaging yet also exploratory at the same time. With that in mind, this brings us to distinct film helmer Doug Liman’s new slice of cinematic pie known as Locked Down and thankfully not only is it a slice of cinematic pie that is the 2nd category that I mentioned, but it is something even better: it is also good (thank God). Indeed based on an original idea by a screenplay writer by the name of Steven Knight, Locked Down is a genre kind of cinematic pie that tries to be not only a dark comedy, but also a crime caper and a romantic drama and not only succeeds, but even does while partnering it up with a fashionable and matching mask to boot. Indeed even though it does not have the asset of wonderful hindsight on last year (in fact it was made in the span of only a few weeks last fall), it is still undeniably astonishing to see how it manages to nail the exact blend of both hope and nihilism in the wake of what has been going on since last February-March (at least in the United States). That and when you factor in that this film is brought vividly to life by a dynamic duo of electric turns from immensely talented thespians Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor and game work from a gifted support cast, what you are left with is something that although flawed in some aspects is still something truly special and worthy of at least a watch.

The plot is as follows: Taking us to the delightful city across the pond that is London, England during the beginning stages of COVID, our movie tells the story of 2 people by the names of Linda and Paxton, a couple who, when our story opens, have decided they wish to no longer go by that moniker due to desiring to break up. A decision that truthfully is about as routine as the sun rising and setting…except for the tiny little predicament that, due to COVID, they are stuck having to live together and cannot go anywhere else. To that end, we see that their reluctant life together has managed to result in constantly rising tension that is only getting worse due to their very different circumstances from a professional perspective. By that I mean on one hand we have Paxton, who incidentally is an ex-con trying to go straight, has been put in furlough from his truck driving position and as a result has become depressed to the max whereas Linda can’t seem to do no wrong in her role as an corporate exec at a job she loathes with a passion. Of course it also doesn’t help that despite both being downright miserable, they can’t even open up to one another about said misery and thus are left to stew on it alone thus making it worse. However just when things are about to reach an apex, the universe decides to extend them a helping hand. A hand that takes the shape and form of Paxton’s boss creating a fake ID for him due to being short on drivers who don’t have Paxton’s distinct background thus allowing him to do some easy cheesy security transport work with the last place on the route being the infamous store Harrods. While this is going on we see that Linda is assigned to handle all COVID-tied transactions her company is working on which happens to include the sale of a 3 million in pounds diamond that happens to be located at….(where else?) Harrods. Thus without even breaking a sweat, our dynamic duo has managed to stumble upon a unique opportunity to pull off the easiest heist ever. As for if they choose to go through with it or not I will leave you to discover for yourself…

Now it should be noted that Doug Liman and Steven Knight do make for quite the intriguing duo to be working on this slice of cinematic pie seeing as one is a distinct film helmer and the other is a writer who loves to experiment, but somehow their different ways of doing things manage to work together in the finest manner possible much to the benefit of those of us who watch the movie. Yet whilst this movie is a slice of cinematic pie that crosses the gauntlet in regards to its response on a pathos level, the best ingredient it has going for it is how comical it is especially when the movies goes down some quite kooky and dark avenues. Indeed as seen within the movie itself, Paxton has a delightful sense of wit which proves to be his salvation from downright despair and misery, but with the side effect of him unloading several rants during video calls where he catches up with his exasperated brother. Linda meanwhile has moments of her own courtesy of expressions she gives as she desperately tries to deal with her boss who is completely self-absorbed. Suffice it to say then that these key ingredients manage to possess a terrific vibe that carries over into Paxton and Linda’s relationship with each other which gives you, the movie goer a degree of comedy that is awkward to the hilt yet intelligent at the same time all while providing a smorgasbord of quirky yet intriguing little details throughout with one highlight being Paxton getting the false identity of Edgar Allan Poe and continuously being shocked when no one else knows just who that really is. Suffice it to say then that the main sensibility that this movie seems to be operating with as manic; a sensibility that I can most assuredly tell you fits in perfectly with the overall vibe that we all have been dealing with this past year-plus.

Now thanks in large part to the magic, when it isn’t being hacked, of being able to talk to people on video chat via a reliable Internet connection and the right apps like Skype, Facebook Messenger, and occasionally Zoom, this slice of cinematic pie is able to assemble together an ensemble cast packed with talent including game and amusing efforts from such magnetic performers as Ben Kingsley. Ben Stiller, Mindy Kaling, and Dulé Hill to name but a few of the engaging thespians that dot the landscape of this distinct narrative. Yet at the end of the day, this is one slice of cinematic that is really truly a movie that is placed in the hands of Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor and together they manage to make this slice of cinematic pie into something truly special. That is because, to put it lightly, the dynamic duo of Linda and Paxton are not the easiest people in the world to portray since, if played in the wrong manner, their anxiousness, self-hatred, and just rancor towards each other could be genuinely grating and infuriating. Thankfully, in the hands of Hathaway and Ejiofor, they manage to possess genuine charisma in their respective roles that, when coupled, with brilliant comedic timing, manages to make them riveting and oddly a pair that we can also empathize with as well. Indeed as the movie goes on, you really do get to appreciate seeing them in all the various facets of their dynamic be it separate, in each other’s face, reminiscing, and even working together and at each distinct moment you also come to appreciate what is distinct yet also genuine about this pair during a period of time that we all can say that we have gone through together.

Yet just as incredible as the other ingredients in this cinematic pie that I have mentioned would have be to the very well-done craftwork let along the logistics of bringing this intriguing slice of cinematic pie to life and on to our screens however big or small.     I mean make no mistake dear reader: this is not exactly a movie that has the scale of a Michael Bay Transformers film and quite a bit of the movie itself does occur within the confines of Paxton and Linda’s home, but I feel that if you look past that you will see that this movie is actually quite an accomplishment to behold and praise. I mean this is a slice of cinematic pie that managed to come together, with a cast of stars incidentally, from the first draft of the script to the last cut of the movie in less than a year and in the process managed to not only fully showcase just how anarchic things have become, but it also never feels underserved, underdone, or pushed in any way. I mean, at least at its heart, this manages to give off the vibe of being a typical land of movie magic entry in the heist genre that is inspired by a shocking global event and complete with the typical big third act at a distinct locale (even if it thankfully doesn’t come equipped with the tropes that you might expect). Yet even though this narrative is heightened in a lot of respects, I am saddened to say that I feel the vast majority of films of this ilk that try to showcase the general chaos of life during COVID, even with being blessed with hindsight, might not be able to achieve the amount of riveting variety and/or novelty that this slice of cinematic pie manages to possess in droves.

All in all I think it is safe to say, just based off what I happen to know about the land of movie magic, that it is pretty much a done and 110% guaranteed deal that over the course of the next decade or so, you as an audience member are going to get to witness as a variety of different thespians and film helmers all decide to showcase an assortment of narratives that all have one thing in common in that they will be set during what I have to come to call the time of COVID. Yet with that being noted, I think that element is perhaps the singular most intriguing thing about this distinct slice of cinematic pie and others in a similar vein as it is the quite genuine chance that there might be some mid-to-high grade quality to be found in that material. This is because there are moments where what can be looked at, and rightfully so, as limits and creative barriers such as being ordered to stay at home or to distance yourself from other people as much as humanely possible, can actually be a fertile ground for some truly delightful and engaging creativity to say nothing of movie magic at its finest. Suffice it to say that this film is definitive proof of this theory in action as by operating with more than one genre whilst kicking cliché to the curb and allowing a sense of fun to take its place, this movie is already engaging, but it is when you combine a dynamic duo of engaging performances and a style that is both fairly well done and brilliant all at once that you get a slice of cinematic pie that is also quite magical as well. On a scale of 1-5 I give Locked Down “2021” a solid 3 out of 5.