What begins as a break-in turns into a hostage affair in Charlie McDowell’s talky drama…
I’m a huge fan of McDowell’s underrated The One I Love, which uses a simple sci-fi approach to tackle relationships, love and infidelity in really fascinating ways. Windfall adopts a similar low-fi approach to explore the same themes, but unfortunately for the new Netflix film, the results are far less successful.
One of the reasons is that the talk-heavy film doesn’t have the benefit of actors who can find the range and nuance of the dialogue like Elisabeth Moss and Mark DuPlass. This isn’t to say that stars Jason Segel, Jesse Plemons and Lily Collins are bad; rather, Windfall is inhibited by a script by Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker that fails to invest depth in its unnamed characters, the sparseness of its pandemic shoot and McDowell’s disinterest in going beyond the surface of his few (obvious) themes.
The single location film takes place at the luxurious vacation home of tech billionaire, credited as CEO (Plemons), and his philanthropist Wife (Collins). It’s evident early on that their marriage is on the rocks; they’ve cleared their schedules in order to get away and reconnect. Due to poor timing, however, they happen upon Nobody (Segel), a thief, just as he is robbing the house. From there the unlikely threesome are forced to cohabitate for a few days as they wait for hostage money to be delivered.
It’s hard not to think of a play when watching Windfall. Not only do the old fashioned, Hitchcock-inspired credits play out over a static shot of the empty patio furniture, but the dialogue-heavy film barely ventures outside of the home (shades of Rope). There are exterior shots of the orange trees lining the property and Nobody briefly escapes to his car, but overall the action is restricted to the few rooms of the large property.
Visually McDowell keeps it relatively simple, favouring mostly static shots with minimal camera movement. There’s nothing big or showy in his direction, which puts all of the attention and emphasis on the performances and the dialogue. Both are perfectly fine, albeit none of the actors have much to work with because their characters are restricted by the refusal to afford them names or substantial backstories and the film’s desire to treat their ties to one another as a slowly unravelling mystery.
In time it becomes clear how CEO earned his immense fortune, the nature of his marriage and professional relationship with Wife and how their decisions wound up trickling down to impact Nobody. Downfall unfurls these details over the course of multiple conversations, in different rooms and walks about the property, but the stakes are relatively low and the conflict barely rises above a simmer. Even the deadpan comedy, which carries the film in its first act, grows tiresome as the film stretches on.
Ultimately there simply isn’t enough here to satisfy. Windfall plays more like a one act play stretched to feature length; it’s a playwriting exercise with a Netflix film budget.
Segel alternates between embodying a man in over his head and looking uncomfortable threatening violence, while Plemons is more successful as a rich showboat. He’s having the ost fun with a role that fails to capitalize on his immense talent. Collins is asked to mostly react to the statements of her two co-stars, though she does well in a late night fireside chat that gives her some of her best material in years.
Overall it’s not enough. Windfall simply needs more – character, conflict, sex. Anything. The small successful elements just don’t add up to a satisfying whole, resulting in a film that’s just kind of there. 2/5
Windfall is now available on Netflix.