“The Woman in the Window” (now streaming on Netflix) has had a long strange trip to our television screens.
Based off the 2018 novel of the same name by Dan Mallory (under the pseudonym A.J. Finn), the movie finished shooting that year, was supposed to be released theatrically by 20th Century Fox in October 2019, was pushed to May 15, 2020 due to poor test screenings by everyone’s favorite producer Scott Rudin (seriously, fuck this guy) and Fox’s new owner Disney before having its release cancelled altogether in the midst of a pandemic and then finally being sold to the aforementioned streamer.
“The Woman in the Window” is the story of an unreliable protagonist (Amy Adams’ Anna Fox) that was initially conceived by an unreliable author (seriously, read The New Yorker’s piece on Mallory here). Mallory’s novel was adapted by acclaimed playwright Tracy Letts (and later rewritten by Tony Gilroy at Rudin’s insistence). Letts does uncredited double duty playing Anna’s in-house shrink, Dr. Landy. Despite Letts’ involvement, the resulting product is less chicken drumstick and more hambone, but that ain’t altogether a bad thing.
Anna is a non-practicing child psychologist and agoraphobic who hasn’t left her home in 10 months. The house in question is a stately Harlem-based brownstone. She’s currently separated from her husband Ed (Anthony Mackie), who has custody of their daughter Olivia (Mariah Bozeman). In spite of this, Anna and Ed speak on the phone every day. When Anna isn’t being therapized to by Landy or logging telephone time with Ed and Olivia she busies herself by mixing anti-anxiety meds with wine and watching Alfred Hitchcock movies.
Speaking of Hitchcock, Anna has also made a habit of spying on her across the street neighbors the Russell’s, newly moved to the area from Boston. The Russell’s are Alistair (Gary Oldman, a whoosh of silver hair and attitude), Jane (a bleached-blonde Julianne Moore) and their son Ethan (Fred Hechinger). Anna connects with Ethan when he drops off a candle gifted by his Mom. She in turn lends the boy some DVDs and asserts that her home is a safe space for him gleaning that he and Alistair have a contentious relationship. Anna also meets Jane when the latter saves the former from some prank-happy hooligans on Halloween. The two proceed to talk and get drunk together.
Shortly thereafter while not minding her own business, Anna witnesses someone stab and kill Jane. Anna does what any concerned citizen would do and calls the cops – here in the form of Detective Little (underrated character actor Brian Tyree Henry) and Detective Norelli (Jeanine Serralles). Detectives Little and Norelli show up to Anna’s brownstone with all three Russell’s – Alistair, Ethan and a new woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) purporting to be Jane. Alistair, understandably upset, refers to Anna as “a boozed-up, pill-popping cat lady,” and tells her to stay the hell away from his family.
Director Joe Wright is undeniably talented and has an aces cast at his disposal – most of whom are treated as disposable save for “High Priestess of Histrionics” Adams, the immensely likable Henry, promising relative newcomer Hechinger (I look forward to seeing more of this kid’s work in Netflix’s upcoming “Fear Street” flick.) and Wyatt Russell as Anna’s probation-skipping rocker of a basement tenant.
I tend to gravitate towards Wright’s more stylistic works, i.e. “Atonement,” “Hanna,” as opposed to his stodgier, stuffier films (“Darkest Hour”). While this is plenty stylish with sharp cinematography and production design by Bruno Delbonnel (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) and Kevin Thompson (“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”), Wright does himself a disservice by dropping all the Hitchcock references – he ain’t Hitch and this ain’t “Rear Window” … this ain’t even Brian De Palma. The picture is too amiable or more specifically Amiel (as in director Jon, whose 1995 effort “Copycat” appropriately enough gets aped here) to be mistaken for the work of a master.
Honestly, this feels like a throwback to the thrillers of the ‘90s. I could totally see somebody like Amiel, Jonathan Kaplan, Joseph Ruben, Gary Fleder, Barbet Schroder or Bruce Beresford directing this thing back in ’96. Had this come out 25 years ago I could also easily see Sandra Bullock or Ashley Judd in Adams’ role, Susan Sarandon or Sigourney Weaver in Moore and Leigh’s roles, Leonardo DiCaprio or Tobey Maguire in Hechinger’s role and Samuel L. Jackson in Henry’s role. Humorously enough, Oldman would be a shoo-in for his role in ’96, 2018 or now – I just wish he had more to do here.
“The Woman in the Window” is better than many would lead you to believe. It feels very much of its time (Hello, being cooped up in our homes!) and not (Falcon and John Walker are both in this and have no scenes together! Wait, this was filmed prior to Disney+ even existing!). It’s not the best recent gaslighting thriller Netflix has to offer (that’d be “Things Heard & Seen”), but if you pretend you rented it on VHS from a Blockbuster Video it just might just have some surprises to spring.