“The Woman in the Window” is yet another movie planned for a big screen release, pulled after the COVID-19 theater closings, and then nabbed by a big spending streaming company. Netflix, Amazon, and Apple have all dropped loads of cash to bring high profile movies to their platforms. It’s a practice that has worked out great for both the companies and those of us who have been stuck inside of our homes for over a year. Will it be a long term thing? Who knows?
This Joe Wright directed psychological thriller was originally a 20th Century production. But after early delays following some concerning test screenings and later delays due to the pandemic, the Disney-owned 20th Century Studios sold the film to Netflix. Based on a 2018 New York Times best-selling novel and packing a star-studded cast, “The Woman in the Window” seemed like a good catch. But Wright’s Hitchcockian aspirations are never fully realized and his movie slowly begins to resemble one hampered by re-writes and re-shoots.
A very game Amy Adams stars as Anna Fox, a child psychologist who struggles with agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder that has left her fearful of going outside. She’s spent the last ten months isolated inside of her Manhattan townhouse, slowly losing herself to prescription medication and alcohol. Her deteriorating condition has led to a separation from her husband Ed (Anthony Mackie) who still calls to check on her from time to time. So she’s left watching old movies, fussing at her tenant David (Wyatt Russell) who rents out her basement, and observing her neighbors from her window “Rear Window” style.
Anna takes a special interest in the Russells, a family of three who just moved into the house across the street from Boston. She first meets their lone child Ethan (Fred Hechinger), a simple and inquisitive 15-year-old who takes a liking to Anna and doesn’t mind stopping by unannounced. But she really hits it off with Ethan’s mother, the brash and outspoken Jane (Julianne Moore) who brings a little energy and spirit into Anna’s home.
But the more she spies on the Russells (who are firm believers in leaving every curtain in the house open) the more she begins noticing signs of an abusive household. It culminates in Anna witnessing a particularly violent argument ending with Jane being stabbed to death. She immediately calls the police who investigate but find no evidence of foul play. Adding to the confusion, two detectives (Brian Tyree Henry and Jeanine Serralles) come to visit Anna with an agitated Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman) from across the street and an entirely different Jane Russell (now played by Jennifer Jason Leigh).
With all of its pieces nicely in place, the gnarly story (written by Tracy Letts) begins to uncoil in an uneven mix of interesting imagery and on-the-nose exposition. Nearly all of the story’s twists, turns, and revelations are told to us rather than shown. Characters spell out practically everything to the point where we’re left with little to figure out for ourselves. It’s frustrating considering the film’s first half weaves together a fairly compelling mystery. But it’s undone by a second half that relies too heavily on a series of surprisingly pointed conversations accompanied by an ending that offers no believable payoff.
It’s also amazing to see this many big names given so little to do. I’m not sure if they owed the filmmakers a favor but Oldman, Moore, Leigh, and Mackie each pop up in a scene or two and then they’re gone. It’s not a dealbreaker, but in a movie that’s struggles to reveal its mystery in a unique and interesting way, a few more scenes with some key players might have helped. Instead everything falls on Adams who is both committed and convincing. If only the same were true for the material. “The Woman in the Window” premieres today (May 14th) on Netflix.