Windfall movie movie director: Charlie McDowell
Windfall movie movie cast: Lily Collins, Jesse Plemons, Jason Segel
Windfall movie movie rating: 2.5 stars
Charlie McDowell’s Netflix mystery-thriller Windfall has Hitchcockian ambitions. The term has been used so often and become so meaningless that it can be stamped on any vaguely effective thriller these days. But with Windfall, McDowell’s attempt is to be positively, classically Hitchcockian.
It becomes apparent from the intro itself, wherein the camera stays focussed on a terrace of a luxurious retreat, curtains of a french window blowing gently in the wind, the gravity of upcoming events underlined by tense, old-timey background score. The view then merges into an establishing shot that pans 180 degrees across to show a pool. Shots featuring an orange grove, a windmill, and woods — all on the same property — follow.
A man sips on fruit juice (orange, what else?) inside an uncovered gazebo. He saunters aimlessly to the grove and munches on fruit, before lounging on a chair beside the pool. By then, it is clear that he doesn’t belong here. He is an interloper. The property belongs to a tech magnate (Jesse Plemons) and his wife (Lily Collins), who soon arrive for an eleventh-hour break, sending the intruder into a tizzy.
It is an undeniably impressive premise, wee bit pretentious, and it is inevitable that that the rest of the film is not going to fall at least slightly short.
The film makes a curious decision to not give a specific name to its trio of main characters. For instance, Segel’s character is called ‘Nobody’ in the credits, on account of him being one of the have-nots fighting back against the haves. The script is penned by Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker (the latter wrote David Fincher’s Seven). The billionaire in question is called CEO, and his wife is called, well, Wife.
One can see what the film is trying to do, to slot the characters in their little position in the social strata. This does go well with the film’s major theme of class identity and how it affects individuals. For instance, Nobody is literally a nobody, who perhaps lost his job in a round of layoffs at the company, something that the CEO nonchalantly calls a necessary measure to maintain the company’s financial health. The CEO himself, a loathsome, amoral man that is a stand-in for any of the multiple tech-bros like Zuckerberg and Musk, blissfully unaware about his privilege, saying it “f***ing sucks” to be one of the world’s richest men.
The Wife feels more of a kinship to Nobody, for we learn she rose from a similar background and her marriage is just a thing she had to do to make it in this world. She is also faintly disgusted with her husband, avoiding sex whenever possible and is on birth control unbeknownst to him.
All three, in fact, are tired of something. Nobody is tired of being stepped on by richer, more upwardly mobile men, and the Wife is tired of this men’s world. The CEO also admits he gets targetted by ‘nothing’ people every day who just want him to fail (all with a straight face). Plemons, used to playing weirdos, is scary good here.
For most of its runtime, Windfall makes for smooth sailing. It does struggle to manage its tone, and often cannot decide what it wants to be — a social thriller with comedic undertones or a noir.
But it skilfully balances its central theme with the thriller elements, and maintains tension throughout. Well, almost throughout. For at the very end, it becomes a very different movie, a far cry from the tense, focussed thriller it was for most of the runtime and devolves into an ending that feels wholly unearned. It would not have felt that jarring if there was believable storytelling leading up to that point.
If you can get past that ending, there is indeed a pretty good thriller in there.