Windfall Falls Short of Its Noir Ambitions

This March Netflix takes a bit of a break from its true crime docu-series staples (Bad Vegan, The Tinder Swindler) for some original escapist entertainment. Directed by Charlie McDowell and featuring Jason Segel, Lily Collins, and Jesse Plemons, Windfall looks like an old-fashioned crime thriller. With its California setting and small cast, this story of a break-in gone wrong has all the ingredients of a stylish noir. However, critics have been less enamored with the results.

Synopsis

At a beautiful, remote California villa, a squatter enjoys a brief moment of living like the other half. After pocketing some loose cash and jewelry, he decides its time to move on. But when the tech billionaire owner and his wife surprisingly arrive everything goes sideways.

Windfall Lacks the Suspense and Sharp Dialogue of Classic Noir

As the opening credits sprawl across the screen, director Charlie McDowell intentions for Windfall are pretty clear. Just everything about the thriller adopts the look and feel of 40s and 50s film noir. The font of the credits, its sun-drenched California landscape, and methodical pacing tap into a retro crime-thriller vibe. In addition, Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ big score takes you bag to another era of film-making. It’s almost another character in the movie. With regards to its scope, Windfall takes a minimalist approach to its material. McDowell also seems to be shooting for a Hitchcockian approach to suspense reminiscent of his smaller-scale work like Rope.

Little in the way of suspense or tension emerges from most of the runtime.

Where Windfall spins its wheels is its tone and inability to generate much suspense. Though McDowell occasionally hints at serious conflict, Windfall more often feels like a crime farce with shades of dark humor. When Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker’s story takes a sudden dark turn in its final 10 minutes, it’s less shocking than it is incongruent with everything that’s proceeded it. It also doesn’t help that very little happens for the movie’s first hour or so. Little in the way of suspense or tension emerges for most of the runtime. And Lader and Walker’s screenplay doesn’t have the same snappy dialogue you’d find in classic noir movies.

Windfall Carried By Strong Performances From Its Cast

If Windfall feels tonally awkward and a bit empty, none of its cast bares the blame. Consistent with McDowell’s minimalist approach, a cast of three principal actors carry the movie from start to finish. In a role that falls way outside his wheelhouse, Jason Segel never looks or feels out of place. His ‘Nobody’ looks and feels worn down by the world – the kind of ‘down on his luck’ loser you’d find in 40s and 50s crime thrillers. And Segel shows a lot of restraint in the role. Though he’s exhausted and befuddled for much of the movie, he quietly ratchets up his character’s desperation by the final act.

In a role that falls way outside his wheelhouse, Jason Segel never looks or feels out of place.

Similarly, Lily Collins takes a big leap away from Emily in Paris as ‘The Wife’. But she’s no less impressive with a screenplay that defines its characters in ambiguous strokes. Collins adds depth along with a certain sadness to the role without revealing her character’s intentions. Like Segel’s performance, Collins also shows an increasing tension that elevates the finale. Not surprisingly, Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad, Black Mirror) plays his ‘CEO’ with a pitch-perfect balance of arrogance and slime intentionally evoking notions of some real-world tech giants. Of the three characters, Windfall’s screenplay paints ‘The CEO’ more black and white aligning him with the thriller’s clumsy commentary on ‘have and have-not’s’.

Windfall Waits Too Long to Pull the Trigger

Despite the best intentions, Windfall never hits the Hitchcockian heights for which it aims. Certainly, McDowell et al have the right idea. From its title credits to its pulpy score, Windfall feels like a Noir-ish crime drama or Hitchcock classics like Rope. All three performers perfectly fill their roles. But tonal inconsistencies and a protracted absence of tension and momentum leave this thriller with few thrills. Audiences may find themselves twiddling their thumbs like the movie’s own characters.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C+

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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