Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
With: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Fred Hechinger, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Jeanine Serralles, Anthony Mackie, Mariah Bozeman
Written by: Tracy Letts, based on a novel by A.J. Finn
Directed by: Joe Wright
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Running Time: 100
Date: 05/14/2021

The Woman in the Window (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Pane Killer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Debuting Friday on Netflix, The Woman in the Window steals director Joe Wright away from his usual literature and history adaptations and into shadowy Hitchcock territory. He seems frightfully comfortable there.

Based on a bestselling novel by A.J. Finn, just about every aspect of the story has been seen before, including the 1954 Barbara Stanwyck thriller Witness to Murder and the 1995 San Francisco-shot Copycat, as well as Hitchcock's own Rear Window.

Even the title matches that of Fritz Lang's great, paranoid 1944 film with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett.

But Wright's films — for all their basis in the written word — are often surprisingly visual, as evidenced by the five-minute long shot of the Dunkirk evacuation in Atonement and all those incredible outdoor sequences in Hanna.

Moreover, he's remarkably strong with interiors, as witnessed in his fluid, twirling 2012 Anna Karenina and the kinetic bunker sequences of Darkest Hour.

He brings that energy to The Woman in the Window, which is almost entirely set within a sprawling, cavernous, well-used Manhattan brownstone, painted in swatches of darkness and color from streetlights and windows and curtains, and strewn with various bric-a-brac.

Living there is child psychologist Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams), who suffers from crippling agoraphobia, and her fluffy cat, Punch.

Anna speaks regularly to her husband (Anthony Mackie) and young daughter (Mariah Bozeman) on the phone, though they are separated. And she has a tenant, David (Wyatt Russell), who lives in the basement and has his own entrance, but tries to help out Anna when he can.

She receives in-home treatment from Dr. Landy (Tracy Letts, the brilliant playwright of Killer Joe, Bug, and August: Osage County, who adapted this screenplay). Landy decides to change up Anna's meds, although he doesn't know that Anna drinks lots of wine with her pills.

He does know all about the goings-on in Anna's neighborhood, as observed by Anna from her many big picture windows.

It's a big day when new neighbors move in across the street. One night, teen Ethan (Fred Hechinger) drops by on a mission from his mother to deliver a new-neighbor gift.

Ethan is a bit strange ("I like cats' tongues"), but sweet, and he winds up borrowing several old movies from Anna's vast DVD collection. (Movie buffs will have fun trying to recognize several classics forever playing on Anna's TV.)

Then Jane Russell (Julianne Moore), Ethan's mother, pops over for a visit. She's nutty but fun, and the women drink and talk for a while.

Anna gets the impression that Mr. Russell (Gary Oldman) may not be the nicest man, and her suspicions are confirmed when he later slaps Ethan in front of her.

Then, while spying through the window, Anna is horrified to see Jane murdered, stabbed with a huge knife, the killer conveniently unseen.

She calls the police, and when detectives Little (Brian Tyree Henry) and Norelli (Jeanine Serralles) show up, Anna is horrified to see that there's a new, different Jane (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Mr. Russell insists that there never was another Jane.

No one believes Anna's story. Moreover, her drinking and her meds further make it look as if she's been hallucinating all along. Maybe she has.

Anna begins her own investigation from the confines of her apartment; cleverly, a Google search for "Jane Russell" brings up hundreds of images of the sultry movie star, of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes fame.

Letts's screenplay is full of weird little wordplays, things that sound almost normal, but still slightly off and may — or may not — provide clues to something coming.

This dialogue also fuels some excellent performances, the guiding of which is another of Wright's skills. Over his previous seven films, he has coaxed Oscar-nominated or winning performances from Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice), Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), and Oldman (Darkest Hour).

Though she only appears for a short while in just a couple of scenes, Moore gives perhaps the first great, scene-stealing performance of 2021, ripe and devilish, a character that makes you want to see the film again.

But Adams does an incredible amount of heavy lifting here as well, with her largely internalized, distorted emotional core. She assembles many layers of fact and fiction, activity and inertia, into a complex web of a woman.

Physically, she looks like she has struggled, wading through the movie in a series of curtainy robes, face pale and puffy, the effects of way too much wine and too many pills.

She's especially powerful in the scenes in which Anna reaches a dead end, with nothing more to drive her. It's superb work.

Yet as well-made as The Woman in the Window is, conventionality does inevitably win out, with a big Rear Window-like showdown and a slam-banger of an ending (set during a rainstorm). It's no Knives Out, but at least it's good, simple, non-ambiguous fun.

On the other hand, given that this is a pandemic movie, home viewers might enjoy an added layer of suspense as they await, fingers crossed, the moment when Anna finally, hopefully, maybe, gets to leave the house.

Movies Unlimtied