An unshaken cocktail of other much better movies, this dramatically turgid, prestige-tinged murder thriller isn’t terribly good, sadly.
There’s little weight, not much style and even less sense to the psychological terror The Woman in the Window attempts to inflict. The roles are so profoundly underwritten that the talented cast seems at a loss as to how to make any sense of them at all. (The barely there Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the fiercest forces to blaze on movie screens over the past 40 years, seems more confused and out of place than an Uber Eats driver that’s been given the wrong address.)
And yet, as we all furtively step forth from the 15-month forced gloom of our musty hovels and into the possible sunshine of a future perhaps not entirely defined by a deadly virus, there is something surprisingly cathartic in watching a movie about a woman trapped inside her brownstone by her own psychosis, swilling red wine and popping antidepressants while she spies on her neighbors and takes pictures of her cat.
Heroes in less-than-the-sum-of-their-parts faux-Hitchcock movies—they’re just like us!
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW ★1/2
Played by Amy Adams with the dutiful attention of a straight-A student who has done all the reading but forgotten why they took the class, this Anna Fox (no relation to the late great studio that initially produced this troubled picture) lives alone. She has no friends (the online network she advises and her physical therapist, important elements in A.J. Finn’s novel, have been nixed) and never seems to eat or work out. Her joy is found entirely in booze and old movies.
Ironically, considering how the film would eventually come be released, she appears to live in a world which Netflix doesn’t exist and finds succor in her DVDs. She also has no Zoom, apparently preferring to connect over telephone. The agoraphobic Anna isn’t just stuck in her house; she’s trapped in 1997.
Echoes of her non-housebound child psychologist self are sounded when the troubled teenager who moved in across the street (News of the World’s Fred Hechinger) comes to her door in distress and feels a need to protect him. Shortly after, she comes across a woman who purports to be the boy’s mother; she’s played by Julianne Moore, who in her short time on screen breaths so much desperately-needed life into the proceedings that you find yourself mourning a bit when Anna eyes her through the window getting a knife in the chest.
The Rear Window parts resonate less than the Gaslight ones do. You’ll feel more than a year’s worth of rage boil up every time the men in her orbit—Wyatt Russell’s slacker tenant, Brian Tyree Henry’s concerned police detective—treat Anna like she’s nuts.
But the film—which according to the credits was directed by Joe Wright (2007’s Atonement) and written by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts, who also co-stars (Michael Clayton’s Tony Gilroy reportedly took over for both after lousy test screenings)—has no idea how to build on that emotion. Nor does it convey Anna’s psychological torment in a manner that is cinematically compelling. Instead, the focus is on increasingly guffaw-inducing plot twists.
The chief problem here is that there is no singular artistic vision guiding the proceedings. Instead, The Woman in the Window is smudged with the fingerprints of producer Scott Rudin, in what, God willing, will serve as his filmmaking swan song.
The infamous tyrant of stage and screen optioned the hot book, hired the fancy cast and lined up the top flight craftspeople. (Danny Elfman provides the heavy-handed score while Inside Llewyn Davis’s Bruno Delbonnel serves as DP.) But what must have sounded like gangbusters at cocktail parties in practice falls flatter than a thrown laptop.
Instead, the only vibrancy and purpose the film manages is entirely accident of timing: Anna finding a way to finally get out of her house just as most of us are doing the same.
The movie may have no idea what to with her agony and outrage, but we do.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.