A still from ‘The Woman in the Window’.
The Woman in the Window is a case of what could have been. Based on AJ Finn’s eponymously titled bestselling thriller, the film has all the trappings of a big studio film. An A-list producer in Scott Rudin, a director in Joe Wright — the man with films like Atonement and Darkest Hour, among others to his name — a $40 million budget, a screenplay penned by the always dependable Tracy Letts and Oscar heavyweights like Amy Adams, Gary Oldman and Julianne Moore leading its cast. It was intended as the classic big studio film, incubated over time, aiming for a big-screen release, and possibly, a host of Academy Award nominations.
In a way, with its debut on Netflix last week, The Woman in the Window represents the breakdown of the Hollywood studio system and the traditional model of release, with the pandemic forcing — and sometimes, even allowing — big-budget Hollywood to recalibrate its release models. It will, undoubtedly, pave the way for more.
The bad news is that even in terms of storytelling, The Woman in the Window is a case of what could have been. What was possibly aimed as a Hitchcockian pastiche — Rear Window is not the only inspiration here — ends up being a mangled mess of a movie and a highly derivative thriller. A powerful and empathetic central act from Amy Adams is the only saving grace. Just about.
Adams plays Anna Fox, a (former) child psychologist, who remains holed up in her plush Manhattan mansion, suffering as she is from agoraphobia, a mortal fear of going out, being in new places and interacting with people, which may bring on an anxiety attack. Truth be told, this isn’t the ideal film to pick in the times that we are living in, but you may find yourselves signing up at the prospect of distracting your mind with a decent thriller.
Even with so much going for it, The Woman in the Window never really falls into the category of a thriller that makes you sit up and let loose a gasp. Adams, with six Oscar nominations and yet no golden statuette in her hands, throws herself into what is a vanity-free part — bloated, make-up free — and lets the film ride on her shoulders.
The first hour, to be honest, is intriguing because one doesn’t know that what is unfolding on screen is for real, or is a complete figment of Anna’s hyperactive, and often muddled, imagination. Skipping on her medicines, holding back crucial information from her therapist who visits her biweekly and drowning herself in alcohol doesn’t make Anna someone who is reliable, especially when she claims that she’s seen a murder being committed in the house opposite.
The Russells, led by dad Alistair (Gary Oldman) have just moved in, and something, to Anna’s eye as she peers through her window and ultimately starts clicking pictures of every move made by the family, doesn’t seem right. The build-up is one of promise, but The Woman in the Window gradually, but steadily, dips into territory that is both insipid and nonsensical.
Which is a pity because you constantly keep thinking what a cast like this could have done with better material. Instead of subtle hat tips, Wright inexplicably crams the film with heavy-handed references, many of which don’t come together. Red herrings pepper the entire plot, but by the time the final reveal is made, it leaves you incredulous. By just how unconvincing it turns out
If you have 100-odd minutes to spare (well, in a lockdown, that’s a given), The Woman in the Window could be a way to pass some time. Just go in without expecting much. Which could well sum up the mindset we find ourselves in these days.
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