This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
Directed by Joe Wright (of Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and The Darkest Hour fame amongst others) and starring Amy Adams, The Woman in the Window is a whodunnit mystery, clearly inspired by many classics in the genre such as Hitchcock’s Rear Window, about an agoraphobic, depressed woman living alone in a big, empty house, who witnesses a hideous crime happen across the street and tries to report it. I love a good whodunit and I admire anyone with the brain strength to attempt to write one or adapt it for the big screen, since this is a genre that lives and dies on subversions and twists; the movie’s big twist is that, despite all its talent and budget, it is a colossal disappointment and big letdown for fans of the creators and the genre alike.
The biggest problem plaguing this movie is that it is boring; there is too much set up of (inconsequential) twists and reveals, too little of an effort to endear the characters, and the mystery is not that interesting to begin with. Out of the 100 minutes of runtime, 80 minutes are boring; even if the actual mystery was interesting and the reveals were genuinely interesting, it would still be disappointing to sit through 80 minutes of well-made and well-acted boredom for 20 minutes of worthwhile entertainment. It’s pretty easy to admit that Amy Adams is really good in the movie and Joe Wright is a brilliant director who directs the hell out of this movie; I’m not in love with every detail of either’s performance in front of and behind the camera, but I felt like there was a lot effort and creativity put into it. I like Wright’s playful admittance and wink of the movie being very similar to Hitchcock and other whodunit classics; I like Adam’s portrayal of her character. It doesn’t really fix any of the issues though.
A whodunit is, in essence, cinema’s street magician; misdirection, stylish reveals, subversions, these are what makes or breaks the best in the business. The Woman in the Window has a lot of twists, reveals, misdirection, but all lack the style and the bravado to truly engage or the significance to capture your breath. The twists change the story and recontextualize what came before, but they never excite or create those moments that makes someone fall in love with whodunits – that feeling of being so sure you know where everything is heading and then with one sudden sweep, the rug is pulled under your feet and you realize that you’ve fallen in a trap laid out before you. Finding out Adam’s character has more to her than meets the eye could have been interesting, but what gets revealed is more depressing than story-changing (although the sequence is genuinely great); finding out the ultimate reveal is more confusing and anti-climactic rather than euphoric sense of everything coming together. What you want is Columbo not Sam Diamond, and some reveals are more akin to Murder by Death than Columbo. Even beyond the disappointing consequences of the reveals, the characters are severely lacking as well; Adam’s character is a bit of a drunk and agoraphobic with a family – that’s it. The Russells move in next door and have a weird attitude – that’s it. The build-up that exists (which is 80%) is not even enough to properly set up the reveals and hopefully sneak past the audience the fact that they are not interesting reveals. The best way to showcase this is to say that Adam’s character is a child psychologist and you would be forgiven to have forgotten that by the end, because it matters little to the character, the story, and anything related to this movie; her career is filler that is used to maybe excuse a certain exchange.
Beyond that, there are so many small details and set ups that lead nowhere, so much stuff that happens off-screen that become irritatingly important later on that feel like cheating; in fact, doing some basic searching online reveals tons of issues plaguing the movie. A writer that copies the movie…Copycat with Sigourney Weaver (had not had the pleasure of seeing it, add it to my list), produced by “exposed” industry veteran – a.k.a scumbag – Scott Rudin, suffered two rounds of bad testing with audience where one resulted in extensive reshoots; these are all covered in this Vanity Fair article (paywall). Point being, there was a way for this movie to be good and I could visualize it after getting through it by doing something as simple as visualizing showing the characters being talked about, but they shot their scenes in 2018 so…
I don’t want to be too hard on the creators for this failure, because they went through mergers, test screenings that demanded reshoots, casting incredible actors (as in incredibly talented and busy), and the pandemic that we all went through. Still, this is a BAD movie no one really needs to watch; if you’re looking for good whodunits then there are a ton of great examples out there. This would be a fascinating show to see how it developed into being this bad, to hear a candid cast & crew talk about their versions, so I hope we get to see that one day. Lucky me, it is rumored to be in development with Jake Gyllenhaal attached (I’m already getting Nightcrawler vibes from this), and if this happens, only then will it be worthwhile to spent any amount of time on this movie.