Producers: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Anthony Katagas Director: Joe Wright Screenplay: Tracy Letts Cast: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Fred Hechinger, Julianne Moore, Bryan Tyree Henry, Wyatt Russell, Anthony Mackie, Tracy Letts, Jeanine Serralles and Mariah Bozeman Distributor: Netflix
There’s a superb film noir called “The Woman in the Window.” Unfortunately for Netflix viewers, it’s the one made by Fritz Lang in 1944 with Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea. Though this picture shares the title and boasts a starry cast and a roster of behind-the camera pros, it’s far inferior—just a glorified Lifetime Network potboiler, more lavish but even dumber than most of them.
Scripted by Tracy Letts from a popular but controversial 2018 novel by A.J. Finn, the nom de plume of Daniel Mallory—whose fabrications about his own life were as deceptive as the twists in his book and who’s been accused of plagiarizing much of the plot from other novels and films—centers on Anna Fox (Amy Adams), a child psychologist suffering from agoraphobia and separated from her husband Edward (Anthony Mackie), who has custody of their daughter Olivia (Mariah Bozeman); she talks with both of them on the phone regularly.
Anna’s only real companion is her cat Punch, though she has a tenant, David Winter (Wyatt Russell), living in her basement, and he helps out with chores; she’s also periodically visited by her concerned therapist (Letts).
One of Anna’s pastimes is observing life outside her windows onto the street. Another is watching old movies, and Letts and director Joe Wright, helpfully pointing out where they’re headed from the very first frames, show us a frozen still of James Stewart from Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”
The allusion is quickly put into motion as Anna watches a new family, the Russells, move in across the street. Helpfully they never bother to close the curtains or lower any blinds, so Anna can watch father Alistair (Gary Oldman) and his son Ethan (Fred Hechinger) without much difficulty. She gets acquainted not only with Ethan when he brings over a gift from his mother Jane, but then with Jane herself (Julianne Moore) when she bursts in one night and they have a long conversation. It becomes apparent to her that Alistair is a tyrannical ogre who bullies his wife and son.
And that’s not all. She’s convinced that he’s a killer when she sees Jane murdered in the house across the way. Naturally she summons the police, Detectives Little (Bryan Tyree Henry) and Norelli (Jeanine Serralles), who seem oddly nonchalant about her story. The reason for their attitude becomes clear when Alistair produces his wife alive and well. The problem is that Jane is a different woman (Jennifer Jason Lee) from the one Anna met. And though she’d befriended Ethan, the boy insists that she’d never met his mother.
What’s going on? Well, though Letts, following Finn (or Mallory, if you prefer), offers an explanation, it’s one that grows increasingly ludicrous as the narrative convolutions emerge, with red herrings flying about all over the place until an outrageously overblown damsel-in-distress finale closes things. Adams has to be congratulated for keeping a straight face throughout the proceedings, in which she rarely has the benefit of being off-screen; it’s actually quite a good performance, though she can’t elevate the material beyond its natural state of pulpy trash.
By contrast Oldman and Moore offer two of their worst performances, frantically overacting in tune with their almost comically overwrought scenes, obviously designed to create an impression of Anna’s fever dreams. Hechinger, meanwhile, only manages to prove just how good Edward Norton was in “Primal Fear.” The supporting cast appear to be suppressing the chuckles that viewers won’t be able to.
The movie has been given a glossy production—it was made by Twentieth Century Films for theatrical distribution before being sold off to Netflix. Kevin Thompson’s production design, Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography, Valerio Bonelli’s editing and Danny Elfman’s score are all stylish contributions to the Hitchcockian atmosphere Wright is at pains to mimic, with his repeated winks to not only “Rear Window” but “Vertigo” and “Psycho.” But all the jump scares demonstrate that overall he’s actually working on a far lower, less sophisticated plane.
If you’ve not seen it, watch Lang’s “Window” instead. It may be more than seventy-five years old, but it’s still mighty effective—as Wright’s misfire is not.