Some films are so painfully predictable that you know exactly what will happen before you reach the second act. Windfall is not one of those films.
Netflix’s new “Hitchcockian thriller,” directed by Charlie McDowell, tells the story of a robbery gone wrong. Severely, and at times even laughably, wrong. Jason Segel plays an unnamed man (cited in credits as “Nobody”) who breaks into a tech billionaire’s vacation home, expecting to lounge in luxury for a while, steal a Rolex watch and some cash, then split before anyone even realizes he’s there. That breezy plan is foiled when the wealthy homeowners, played by Jesse Plemons (“CEO”) and Lily Collins (“Wife”), unexpectedly arrive for an impromptu getaway.
After a prolonged opening-credits shot of the stunning vacation home, the camera pans to views of the estate. We get a glimpse of the grounds, the pool, the orange grove, and the garden, all of which serve as backdrops for later scenes. The camera lands on Segel’s character, who’s serenely sipping orange juice and soaking in the view. He’s imagining what it would be like to be these people; to have it all. He makes his way into the house, stops to tie his shoe, takes a piss in the shower, and rummages through drawers and closets until he finds money and a gun. He’s about to head out when the couple corners him. He panics and makes the impetuous decision to take them hostage, beginning one hell of a ride.
The filthy rich tech CEO promises to give his captor $500,000, but the three are forced to kill time together until the money arrives. As pressure mounts, the characters reveal their true selves. And their clashing conduct fundamentally molds and elevates the ever-changing situation.
The trio delivers outstanding performances that are only enhanced by a nerve-racking score, created by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, and Isiah Donté Lee’s gorgeous cinematography (the @OnePerfectShot Twitter account would be overwhelmed with options). The contemporary noir is a simple, stripped-down thriller that presents seemingly straightforward solutions at the start. But Windfall grows increasingly complex, keeping viewers engaged and inquisitive from beginning to end.
Segel successfully portrays a generally nonconfrontational dude who’s trying and failing to act tough. He ties the couple up with electronics cords but nearly has a breakdown trying to unclasp the wife’s purse. It’s obvious that he’s woefully unqualified to run the show. His threats are gentle and visibly empty, and he wears desperation, regret, and the burning desire for a solution on his sleeve. Even in the process of committing several crimes, he feels worthy of our compassion, especially since you’ll spend a decent chunk of the film wanting to punch Plemons’ character in the face.
The Power of the Dog actor utterly infuriates as an entitled slimeball, who lacks the smallest bit of self-control. In the middle of this hostage situation, he takes time to remind his wife that he hates her tattoo. He taunts his captor every chance he gets. And he delivers several sickening monologues — one of which eerily echoes Kim Kardashian’s recent insensitive work ethic comments. Plemons ably plays an arrogant asshole at one point exclaiming: “Try being a rich white guy these days! Everyone always thinks it must be real fuckin’ nice.”
Meanwhile, Collins brings incredible depth and range to her character. Windfall will remind everyone that the Emily In Paris star isn’t all fun in France. Collins, who’s married to McDowell, plays a quiet, discontent wife, who finds her voice throughout the film. Her character displays the ability to remain level-headed in times of turbulence. But Collins gives a stunning, multifaceted performance that shows her cycle through fear, disgust, empathy, introspection, anger, and just about everything in between.
McDowell wrote the story, along with Justin Lader, Andrew Kevin Walker, and Segel. And he’s close friends with both Segel and Plemons, which likely played a role in their amazing onscreen chemistry.
Windfall‘s casting is brilliant, and its unconventional camerawork crafts a picture-perfect presentation of three sorely imperfect lives. Masterful shots of everything from a sculpture in the living room and birds circling in the sky to eyes shifting, to a leg bouncing with anxiety and fingers tapping on the couch, help emphasize the agonizing passage of time.
Though the film is a thriller, it’s undoubtedly one of the most chill high-stress situations of all time. It’s dialogue-heavy. It’s ripe with awkward, tense, and lengthy stretches of silence. And winks of levity are sprinkled throughout, including a scene where they watch the 1986 comedy, Three Amigos!.
Windfall’s unhurried pacing and the couple’s laidback lack of escape attempts might not keep everyone’s attention. But if you manage to stick around as long as that burglar, you’ll be rewarded with a satisfyingly surprising ending.
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