Amy Adams delivers a tour de force performance playing an agoraphobic child psychologist whose life is upended when she witnesses a brutal crime in “The Woman in the Window,” a riveting psychological thriller costarring Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, and Wyatt Russell.
From British director Joe Wright, best known for critically acclaimed period pieces like “Atonement,” “Darkest Hour” and “Pride and Prejudice,” this sleek and stylish thriller is an engaging throwback to Hitchcockian noirs of the Classical Hollywood era. Based on the New York Times bestseller by pseudonymous author A.J. Finn and adapted for the screen by actor and Pulitzer winning playwright Tracy Letts, although “The Woman in the Window” is perhaps too indebted to the classic crime dramas it emulates, the film still succeeds as a suspenseful thrill ride that keeps audiences on its toes trying to distinguish fact from fantasy. From references to “Rear Window” and “Vertigo” to the Bernard Herrmann-style score by Danny Elfman, Wright wears his Hitchcock influences on his sleeve, at times to the point of excess. Still, thanks to Letts’ captivating script, a couple effective twists, and some appropriately larger-than-life performances from the accomplished cast, “The Woman in the Window” is sure to scare up some interest when it debuts on Netflix this Friday.
In the film, Adams plays Anna Fox, an agoraphobic child psychologist who lives a solitary life in a New York City brownstone. Except for the occasional run-in with her basement tenant David (Wyatt Russell), Anna’s daily activities involve watching classic film noirs, lying to her shrink (Tracy Letts) about quitting drinking, and spying on her new neighbors across the street, The Russells. Anna’s curiosity about The Russells is piqued by encounters with the teenage son Ethan (Fred Hechinger), and his mother Jane (Julianne Moore), both of whom come over to Anna’s house and strike up conversations that leave her with the distinct feeling that there’s something off about these people.
Anna’s suspicions about her neighbors are soon confirmed when one night while spying on The Russell home, she witnesses what appears to be a murder. Anna reports the crime to the police, but the Russell family patriarch, Alistair (Gary Oldman), insists that no crime was committed and that Anna never even met his wife. Did Anna witness a murder, or did her new medication mixed with the alcohol cause her mind to play tricks on her? As Anna falls deeper down the rabbit hole of paranoia, some secrets come to light that make her and the audience wonder what is real and what is fantasy.
Although director Joe Wright has dabbled in the thriller genre before with the first-rate child assassin pic “Hanna” and has also excelled in the realm of classic period pieces with films like “Atonement,” this inspired take on the film noir may be his most mainstream work to date. Even though there is nothing subtle about Wright’s approach to the genre, and there are times when this excess works against the overall film, “The Woman in the Window” still offers up a catchy mystery that strings audiences along with hopes of piecing together the psychological puzzle at hand. And while Wright’s inventive direction dials up the intrigue at every possible opportunity, it’s Tracy Letts’ dramatically sound script that helps the film reach maximum thrills. Of course, Danny Elfman’s suspenseful score also goes a long way in capturing the intended tone, while Bruno Delbonnel’s haunting camerawork is effectively unsetting as well.
Playing the agoraphobic title character, Amy Adams dials up the drama and succeeds in eliciting the mystery that the story hinges upon: did she witness a murder, or was it all in her head? As the story plays out, we come to understand the full nature of Anna’s trauma and why she committed herself to a life sealed off from the outdoors, and without Adams’ dedicated performance the character could easily come across as unconvincing. And while “The Woman in the Window” is undeniably Adams’ film, the supporting cast are offered the opportunity to sink their teeth into some strong roles as well, especially Gary Oldman as the domineering patriarch Alistair Russell, Fred Hechinger as his unpredictable son Ethan, and Julianne Moore as his enigmatic wife Jane.
“The Woman in the Window” is a fascinating homage to Hitchcockian thrillers.
By Lucas Mirabella
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rated R for violence and language