THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW -- A Complex Thriller Handled Deftly by the Writer, Director, and Actors
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Woman in the Window is based on a worldwide bestseller by A.J. Finn adapted for the screen by playwright and character actor Tracy Letts. Letts is primarily known by American audiences as an actor in such films as Ford v. Ferrari, Lady Bird, and Little Women, but he has made a career of writing plays such as August: Osage County, The Minutes, and Killer Joe. He is an acclaimed writer as well as an actor. This might be the most complicated script he has written of his career. This story has layers on top of layers. It takes a deft hand to adapt this dense material. Letts is the right man for the job. He balances all the complexities of this story perfectly. It could have gone off the rails, but it doesn't. It is masterfully handled. The dialogue is incredible from everybody involved.
The film is directed by an absolute professional in Joe Wright. He has directed some great films in the past including his breakout hit Atonement as well as the 2005 Pride and Prejudice and Darkest Hour, the latter of which he worked with Gary Oldman who won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for playing Winston Churchill. Wright has made a career of directing complex stories such as this and balancing many actors while doing so. This film is no different than the others. This film has layers on top of layers he has to make sure are handled very delicately.
Amy Adams plays a woman who is agoraphobic. She witnesses a murder across the street through her window. The family across the street just moved in and they seemingly have an idyllic life. She's enamored by them, especially the wife played by Julianne Moore. She also befriends the son played by newcomer Fred Hechinger. The husband played by Gary Oldman is not so fond of Adams' character. He believes she's crazy and making this whole story up. Who's right and who's wrong? That is the million-dollar question. Is the agoraphobic psychiatrist imaging this to make up for her own mistakes of her past? Who knows?
Besides Adams, this cast is incredible all the way around. They play their roles perfectly to lead the viewers down certain paths the filmmakers need and want them to go down. All of these actors, Wyatt Russell, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Tyree Henry, in addition to those I mentioned, play their parts like seasoned pros. Adams though gives the performance of her career. She takes these words and she makes them entirely believable coming from her mouth. Her phobia and neurotic nature play perfectly in the hands of this woman with this compulsive disease. She was perfectly cast in this role. I couldn't see another actress in this role. Also in a career-making performance is Fred Hechinger as the son who has much more going on than anyone could have imagined. He is beyond what I could have expected.
This film has an almost exact resemblance to a few films in the past such as Disturbia and, the obvious one, Rear Window from master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. The agoraphobia angle is a great way to create this feeling for Adams' character that she doesn't have anyone who will believe or help her. We are put in her shoes the same as the characters in the other two films I mentioned. It's that inability for us to get away from this situation. That makes the character so engaging. We want her to be correct despite everything pointing to her being wrong. It's a classic trope, but works.
Wright enlists the help of some great people behind the camera as well as in front of it. Danny Elfman has done numerous scores since his days of the 1989 Batman. He has frequently collaborated with Tim Burton. He has also worked with other great directors as Ang Lee, Zach Snyder, Sam Raimi, and Gus Van Zant. The score for this film is haunting and suspenseful. It helps keep the viewer on edge throughout the film. All the nuances of it are felt from the beginning to the thrilling end. Elfman knows his way around this type of material by now.
The cinematography plays right into the hands of the story and the score as well. Shots of staircases and through windows are impeccable. They play right into the dark nature of the film, keeping the viewer guessing what's around each corner at times. While also vividly showing the apartments and locations, some scenes of sunlight as well as bad weather such as rainy nights. Red light through an umbrella is a unique shot, to say the least. Bruno Delbonnel has already worked on some amazing films in the past such as Amélie, A Very Long Engagement, and Inside Llewyn Davis. He has shown he knows how to get some beautiful shots from various angles. Using different lenses.
The only flaw this film has was its length. I could have watched a three-hour version of this film. The hour-and-forty-four-minute runtime seemed like it went by so fast. A film with such a complex story and so many layers should have been longer. All of these amazing actors needed more time to breathe. That means a longer runtime. Cutting this film down to such a short runtime seemed like a travesty to me. Usually, people want shorter films, but not in this case.
The Woman in the Window is a master class of filmmaking by all involved starting with Letts and Wright. They crafted a film that anybody can get behind. It's a first-class thriller with amazing performances from Adams and newcomer Hechinger. The score and cinematography play right into the hands of the writer and director as well. I could have watched a much longer version of this film and have been right at home sitting there. This film might have been better set in a theater, but Netflix is where it landed. Fox settled on this after the pandemic year we've just had. Who knows where this film could have landed otherwise. The fact remains it's a masterclass in filmmaking all the way around.
The Woman in the Window hits Netflix on May 14.
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