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Cinephilia: Netflix’s latest noir ‘Windfall’ is a stylish yet unrewarding thriller

A lot can happen when you put some very different people in the same room. Even more so when one of them is trying to rob you at gunpoint. Such a situation is the foundation for Netflix’s newest thriller from Charlie McDowell, “Windfall.”

Directed by McDowell and co-written by Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker, “Windfall” follows an unknown man, played by Jason Segal, who finds a billionaire’s home unoccupied and attempts to rob it. However, when the billionaire and his wife, played by Jesse Plemons and Lily Collins respectively, abruptly show up, the man takes them hostage.

Smaran Ramidi / DFP Staff

“Windfall” is an interesting example of just exactly how an intriguing and suspenseful premise, worked together with three strong actors, serves as a slowly burning film that finds itself losing its stride as the plot goes on. The upfront idea of showcasing the talent of three stars placed in their own room together works on several levels, where a strong script is needed to help create interest from not just the viewers, but the characters themselves.

Having one setting also restricts movement or change of location and hence challenges the actors and writers to fully engross their viewer in what is on screen, unworried about anything else that could happen, or possibly nervous for the outside change.

“Windfall” begins as a proper homage to the noir genre with its eerie score and classic Hollywood opening credits in the beginning of the film, a static shot of an empty house sitting in the sunlight. No time is wasted to throw action into place, which is a great thing for a film that only has three main characters. Why bother to wait to see what will happen if that question is already answered for us? The actual rundown of the hostage situation plays out relatively well, where, in a span of 90 minutes, action occurs sparingly but in correct fashion. The endgame of it all, awaiting for cash to be delivered in 36 hours, serves as the ticking clock for the hostages and the unknown man.

That said, Collins and Plemons also remain unnamed, a move that is possibly to enhance the mystery behind their nature but also relate them to the stranger himself. Unfortunately, Segal is subpar in his performance as “the man,” who struggles to truly exhibit any sort of true fire behind him. Segal has a history of great acting and is indeed talented, but Plemons steals the show as the arrogant and narcissistic billionaire.

It is always refreshing to hate a character you are meant to hate, which nods to both good characterization on the writers’ part but also great acting. Plemons drives the film up until the hour mark or so where after he exits the screen — his absence drags the film, never to recover. The energy behind his character is unmatched by his co-stars, especially Collins, who somewhat floats through the film as almost a supporting star. Such an appearance factors into the final act and beats of the film, which I can’t get behind, given the lack of proper tension building and an overall look on the style of how they can portray its sequences. As the final scene plays out, we are more or less left with an incomplete understanding of what is going on, feeling more puzzled than interested.

Perhaps it is too sudden for my own taste, or perhaps that is the point of the beat, yet regardless, a film revolving around the suspenseful nature of a hostage situation with the outside pressures of their environment lurking falls ever so flat in its final build and falling action.

Overall a relatively enjoyable experience, “Windfall” sees another strong performance from Plemons but comes short on delivering a beckoning conclusion.

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