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'Locked Down' review: Intriguing movie set during the pandemic

Anne Hathaway as Linda and Chiwetel Eijofor as

Anne Hathaway as Linda and Chiwetel Eijofor as Paxton in HBO Max's "Locked Down." Credit: HBO MAX/Susie Allnutt

MOVIE "Locked Down"

WHERE Starts streaming Thursday on HBO Max.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT In one of the first major entries in what's sure to be a robust collection of movies set during the COVID-19 pandemic, Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in "Locked Down" as a couple who had the misfortune of splitting up just before being locked down together.

She's Linda Thurman, a big shot at Harrods, the iconic London department store, and he's Paxton Riggs, down-on-his-luck and recently furloughed. Stuck together as the world seems to crumble around them, they bicker and banter, fight and make up, and eventually join forces to pull off an audacious jewel heist.

Directed by Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity") and written by Steven Knight ("Allied"), the movie begins streaming on HBO Max on Thursday. Co-stars, seen almost exclusively on Zoom, include Ben Kingsley, Mindy Kaling, Ben Stiller and Stephen Merchant.

MY SAY From the onset of lockdown last March, it became immediately apparent that there would be a run of movies about struggling couples forced into a confined space together with no seeming end in sight.

It's such an obvious premise for the coronavirus era that it practically writes itself. You should probably expect romantic comedies, serious dramas and a host of films and TV shows that land somewhere in between the two to be built around this idea in the months and years ahead.

"Locked Down" stands at the vanguard of this and therefore amounts to an intriguing experiment. There are lots of scenes on Zoom throughout the picture, references to the dreaded freezes and weak signals, and even sight gags built around the backgrounds.

As the news broadcasts updates on the apocalyptic conditions outside, our protagonists discuss grocery lists and the other components of everyday life that at once came to seem so extraordinary. At one point Hathaway's Linda pointedly pauses to put on her mask.

Whether audiences want to escape this overwhelming 10-month reality into the world of a movie that depicts it so matter-of-factly is an open and fascinating question.

There's something about it that stands as a great leveler, as we watch these A-listers, even as they play fictional characters, experience the same profound disruptions that have afflicted us all.

Liman and Knight had to be creative in conceiving of this movie and executing it in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.

The Zoom scenes hold some dramatic weight, especially one in which Linda has to impart some bad news to her employees. The filmmaker smartly makes the pandemic into a major presence in the movie without allowing for the narrative to be overwhelmed by it.

"Locked Down" works best as a relationship dramedy and doesn't really need the heist staged in a shuttering Harrods. But Liman pulls it off impressively, making it tense and engaging with relatively few extras and without so much as a single apparent special effect or stunt.

Hathaway and Ejiofor seem to relish being given the opportunity to breathe as actors, to play off one another in a two-hander unencumbered by too many distractions. She's charming and relatable, while he affects a seriocomic edge that makes Paxton into an empathetic figure but never one to be pitied.

They're totally convincing as a couple on the brink. The actors seem to be drawing on their own experience in lockdown in the ways they convey the heightened emotions at unexpected times that we all experienced when everything suddenly changed.

BOTTOM LINE While you might not be eager to see a movie set during the COVID-19 pandemic and featuring many scenes on Zoom, "Locked Down" at least establishes a template for how to be creative and interesting in doing it.

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