Review: 'The Woman in the Window' is missed opportunity
After years of bad buzz, including disastrous test screenings, rewrites and reshoots, “The Woman in the Window” finally streams on Netflix to face the music from audiences.
It would be sweet to report that the film version of the bestselling 2018 thriller about a woman in jeopardy beat the jinx in a page-to-screen transfer as delicious as “Gone Girl.” But the result is more like Hollywood’s botched take on “The Girl on the Train” — dead on arrival.
Amy Adams leads an overqualified and underserved cast as Anna Fox, a child psychologist who refuses to leave her Harlem townhouse, dulling her personal trauma by binging thrillers on TV while dangerously mixing her meds with alcohol. Even her shrink, portrayed by playwright Tracy Letts — who took the first run at the script — makes house calls for agoraphobic Anna.
The setup recalls Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” in which a wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart sees a man across the courtyard (Raymond Burr) murder his wife. Anna can relate since she thinks she sees her new neighbor, Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman with a shock of white hair to resemble Burr), kill his wife, Jane (Julianne Moore), who had recently visited Anna.
A call to the police brings in Detective Little (Brian Tyree Henry), who offers a sympathetic ear until a furious Alistair and his wife, alive and played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, burst in to dispute Anna’s claim. Even the Russell’s teen son, Ethan (Fred Hechinger), who previously stunned Anna with tales of his father’s physical abuse, denies saying any such thing.
Though the atmosphere is creepily claustrophobic, “The Woman in the Window” feels more like a play than a movie, with characters arriving in lockstep to unpack their emotional baggage as suspects. The housebound Anna only steps outside once before collapsing in a dead faint.
What gives? Is Anna crazy, the victim of a gaslight conspiracy or something worse? Where are Anna’s husband (Anthony Mackie) and daughter (Mariah Bozeman)? And what did her studly boarder, David (Wyatt Russell), who lives in Anna’s basement, see or not see?
In the book, these were ingredients for nonstop tension that oddly never materializes on screen under surprisingly flat direction from the usually inventive Joe Wright, who’s already had two films (“Atonement” and “Darkest Hour”) in the Oscar race for best picture. Not this time.
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The actors struggle to compensate, but they’re fighting an uphill battle. Credit Adams for sustaining our rooting interest in Anna. And young Hechinger, a standout with Tom Hanks in “News of the World,” excels at finding a character in the space between words.
Maybe there were too many cooks in the kitchen, what with studio interference and Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) brought in for script doctoring. All the fussing seems to have sucked the playful life out of the book.
Author Dan Mallory, who used the pseudonym A.J. Finn for his novel, was not shy about borrowing inspiration from suspense master Hitchcock and the 1995 film “Copycat,” with Sigourney Weayer starring as a psychologist turned hermit.
Shameless? You bet. But Mallory, publicly disgraced for lying about the facts of his own life, made his copycatting far more fun and organic on the page. His cinema references, from film noir (“Out of the Past, “Gaslight”) to Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” and “Rope,” provided both clues and a clever guessing game for film junkies.
We watch Anna watching those movies on her TV, but the clips are too short to resonate. On screen, “The Woman in the Window” just lies there, static and dreary, awaiting an animating spark that never comes. Talk about a missed opportunity.
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