But despite the available chemistry and charisma of Hathaway and Ejiofor, “Locked Down” turns out to be a bewildering mess, in part because of the choices made to tell a story that mixes two-handed drama with a heist. The creative limits aren’t even due to the pandemic, but to Knight and director Doug Liman making this story more stagnant than it should be.
“Locked Down” begins in cloudy and tense circumstances, expressing the bitter mixture of soul-searching and grief that we now know to be in midlife. Linda (Hathaway) and Paxton (Ejiofor) are required to go their separate ways once this hellish lockdown is over; two more weeks and the London-based couple will be confused. Their relationship started with wild motorcycle rides years ago and took an emotional downward slope when the well-read and aggressive Paxton was arrested for beating someone up in self-defense. Since then, their relationship has grown into a collection of pissed off conversations and sad, private actions. Paxton wants to sell the bike and Linda hasn’t even told her co-workers about the relationship. The lockdown made them even more tense, especially as Linda deals with a horrific work drama over Zoom calls, realizing how her corporate job is a total draw.
For the first two acts of the film, Hathaway and Ejiofor both give manic performances that suit the period. As Linda and Paxton clash, they essentially steal wild monologues that detail their neuroses about their growing disgust for themselves and each other, indirectly showing how these estranged lovers would be perfect for each other s ‘they could just meet again. The acting is overdone, as if Liman lets the pandemic inspire the blockade, making them walk and end their anxious rants on a feverish pace. It can be a compelling but campy display, like when Hathaway blows chain speed, with erasable murmurs in between, about a pre-COVID business trip where she had to face each other in the mirror and did not like what she saw. The monologues can be so scenic that you half expect the two to burst into song – to do something this forceful – so you feel the weight sinking even more when the movie comes back to the dragging Zoom calls. the intrigue already convoluted.
Ejiofor goes against his type of usually holding some sort of wisdom – it’s striking to see him so anxious, so disheveled, so intentionally boring. There’s a compelling smallness to him too, especially playing this character who blames his actions of ten years ago for overwhelming who he is now, a subplot that Ejiofor can only do a lot with. But he has bursts of freedom, running outside and reading poems by TS Eliot and DH Lawrence on his phone to his neighbors, his “fellow inmates.” Sometimes the non-Zoom portable cinematography of the film simply sees him as he does it, watching this quarantined madman like the words are his own inner monologue.