Anna Fox (Amy Adams) lives in one of the grand four story brownstone New York homes, incredibly spacious but for her closing in with haunts of regrets. She is alone, except for her tenant David (Wyatt Russell), living in her basement. She is a psychologist, but is having trouble with her separation from her husband (Anthony Mackie), who has custody of their young daughter. Aggressively agoraphobic, she spends her time at the windows, watching neighbors, and soon becomes convinced that the Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman), living across the way, has murdered his wife Jane (Julianne Moore). However, things may not be what they seem, and soon she’s wrapped in a mystery that has everyone pointing fingers.
Directed by Joe Wright and based on the novel of the same name by A. J. Finn, The Woman in the Window works hard to be a stylish thriller paying proper homage to the genre and its master Alfred Hitchcock, but is unfortunately, a pale comparison stemming mostly from its cobbled screenplay, transparent plotting, and reliance on a bombastic score (by the typically great Danny Elfman). It’s a sturdy thriller to a degree, with lots of terrific visuals and even some quality moments of suspense, thanks to Wright’s direction, but it doesn’t have any surprises and stumbles mightily in a genre where subtlety is key.
Where it works best is in the fine performance from Adams, who is stripped down to her rawest. Make up free, straggly hair, bundled in baggy worn pajamas and robes, she spends the film in a tattered state of imbalance that is ideal for the story, convincing us that we should be skeptical of what she believes is real. However, this is ultimately where the movie loses us since we can tell fairly early on that because she is so distressed, we can’t trust anything she sees. This leads to scenes that, not only because we can’t trust her, the way Wright films them, leaves us certain they aren’t way they appear.
That said, I won’t reveal its secrets, but while Adams at least brings Fox to life in a way that works, little else is made so with the other characters, each – maybe purposefully so – cardboard thin and picture perfect pawns in the an all-to-often seen plot. Moore has a brief but pivotal part in all this and does what she can with who she portrays, but I wish she’d had more to do. And if she is underused, Jennifer Jason Leigh is downright invisible, cast in role that is practically inert. Oldman obliges as he spits and scowls and threatens, working hard to make us believe he’s evil, but he’s just one of many rote characters that end up standing frozen in camera-friendly positions in the final act as everything we’ve guessed is finally unveiled. Though a “reveal” is almost laughably undone by a killer with a penchant for chatter that is cringeworthy at best.
Not to be so hard on the film, it’s simply a matter of disappointment and frustration as this is a primed for some real psychological manipulations, but Wright and the filmmakers can’t seem to decide what they’re making. They throw everything at us, which, fine, I’ll work with that, but this is a story that demands introversion and deep paranoia. That doesn’t work when your character is on screen emotionally breaking down but your score is pounding out explosive electronic beats like a Tom Cruise action movie. It’s a terrible misstep. And it’s one of many that go hand in hand with some truly great production design and terrific imagery, all deflated by poor choices that leave this feeling generic and weirdly lacking the style it’s pushing for.
I want to like this movie. I was looking greatly forward to seeing. I’m not going to say you shouldn’t see it, as fans of Amy Adams really ought to. However, the film split at the seams, its ending clearly reshoots to try and make things easy for audiences making this a sour watch.