Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Fred Hechinger, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore
Run Time: 100 mins
It’s staggering just how horrifically bad The Woman In The Window is. Adapted by Tracy Letts (who also features in the film) from A.J. Finn’s hit novel, this murder mystery follows agaraphobic child psychologist Anna Fox (Amy Adams) who is separated from her husband (Anthony Mackie) and daughter. Her housebound state leads her to observe her neighbours from her window, one of which is the Russell family who have recently moved in. When Anna witnesses the mother of the family, Jane (Julianne Moore) stabbed to her death, she tries to investigate the murder with the help of the police. However, Anna is also on a cocktail of medication and drinks alcohol daily, so is what he saw accurate and she’s telling the truth or does she not have a firm grip on reality?
Tracy Letts is a gifted playwright and screenwriter, behind works such as Killer Joe and August: Osage County. Joe Wright is in the director’s chair for this, who had an initially very promising career, for example with Atonement and Hanna. More recently though, he has been on rocky ground with Pan, which is one of the worst films of recent years that once seen can’t be unseen. He also directed and received acclaim for Darkest Hour, with Gary Oldman earning an Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in the film. I had some strong reservations with the film and felt that it didn’t have much to offer other than Oldman’s performance and some beautiful cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, who is also behind the camera here. Wright assembles a terrific cast and crew here, which should have been full of promise.
The film has faced delays in making it to the big screen, with the pandemic and has finally been brought by Netflix. If anything, this was promising because the notion of an agaraphobic main character confined to her home for a long period of time should resonate with viewers who have experienced recent lockdowns, essentially a Rear Window for the coronavirus age. But alas, Rear Window, this isn’t. How on earth did it go so wrong?
I lost my patience with the film pretty early in and was hoping that it would pick up once the inciting incident of the murder happened but the film only got worse. I haven’t read the book and it looks like the film makes some minor changes but the story is more or less the same. Joe Wright’s direction is incoherently frenetic, allowing audiences to watch events unfold from the perspective of Anna. As a character, Anna is insufferable and Amy Adams tones up the camp in her peformance. How can audiences sympathise with a character that is genuinely unlikeable and consistently disrespectful of her neighbours?
The rest of the performances in the film are also terrible, with actors talking dramatically and then deciding it’s a good idea to shout, Gary Oldman a prime example. Oldman plays the patriarch of the Russell family, whose wonky American accent constantly slips into English. Wyatt Russell plays Anna’s household tenant, who lives in the basement, who Anna thinks it’s a good idea to go and snoop around his possessions and does so repeatedly after he instructs her not to. Russell’s performance is equally schizophrenic and cannot convey the darker side of his character whatsoever. Brian Tyree Henry, who is normally excellent, is also terrible as a totally unprofessional police detective. A scene at the film’s close is particularly laughable in what actions his character instructs Anna to carry out. Perhaps Jennifer Jason Leigh and Anthony Mackie come out of this experience the best as they are underutilised in the film and fail to make an impression. In fact, it’s generally surprising how little screen time most of the actors have other than Amy Adams and when the mystery is in full swing, there are just no stakes and no care to have for these characters.
After getting through 80 minutes or so, the film reaches its climax where there is a twist ending. The twist is shockingly bad and there are some unintentional laugh-out loud moments in the depiction of a fight sequence at the end of the film. Although I haven’t read the novel, whilst it’s still a poor twist, it probably works better there as the characters are better established.
Tracy Lett’s screenplay is surprisingly terrible and is chiefly to blame for this disaster. Letts may have had a strong career to date but the dialogue here is ear-scrapingly bad in places and lacks character development. His screenplay isn’t particularly cinematic which isn’t in itself a problem, as there are many effective films set in one location. Joe Wright makes a pigs ear of directing the film as he offsets the stage-play quality of the script with flashbacks and cuts from other characters perspectives, as well as riding an uneasy line between a camp and serious tone.
Even visually, the film is lacking. Bruno Delbonnel has crafted some mesmerising images in his career, behind a lot of Coen Brothers films and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Delbonnel fails to establish Anna’s house setting. As it plays such a crucial part to the film’s story, audiences should know the intracacies of it and the layout as the mystery unfolds. It is also lit in an ugly manner. The film has a camp visual aesthetic and its brief moments of gore and violence are laughable and toothless rather than alarming.
The Woman In The Window is an unmitigated failure for all involved and will surely act as a stain in the cast and crew’s career. If you choose to stick with this irritating and annoyingly disorienting film rather than end your suffering early, your curiosity will not be rewarded in the film’s climax. The only saving grace is perhaps it is a good thing this film won’t be shown in cinemas for a paying audience and will stay hidden away in the vaults of Netflix for eternity. The Woman In The Window staggered me in its unrelenting ability to punish its audience throughout and is one of the worst experiences I have had in quite some time.