In The Woman in the Window, director Joe Wright took a detour from his usual historical-film offerings seen in the likes of Atonement (2007) and Darkest Hour (2017) in favour of a more contemporary film, making the third time for him in doing so after The Soloist (2009) and Hanna (2011).
Adapted from A.J. Finn’s 2018 novel of the same name, The Woman in the Window follows Anna Fox (Amy Adams), a child psychologist suffering from agoraphobia, where she spends all her time in her Harlem brownstone. Her anxiety disorder is so severe that she would pass out just to step outside of her home. So, she has all her necessities including food supplies delivered right to her doorstep and she would spend her free time watching old movies on DVD.
When she’s not watching a movie, she will either speak to her separated husband (Anthony Mackie) on the phone or her psychiatrist (Tracy Letts, who also contributed the adapted screenplay) making house calls. She happens to pop a lot of anti-anxiety pills and can’t stop drinking red wine — a result that may or may not cause her to suffer from a deteriorating mental state.
Then one night she witnesses a woman is murdered in the apartment across the street. That woman in question turns out to be Jane Russell (Julianne Moore), where they become friends one evening over a few glasses of wine. But the weird thing is, the police (led by Brian Tyree Henry’s Detective Little) finds no trace of evidence regarding Jane’s murder.
Joe Wright obviously inspired his latest film from Alfred Hitchock’s Rear Window (1954) and even went as far as showing a glimpse of Jimmy Stewart’s panicked expression on Anna’s television during the opening scene. If you are expected something as masterful as that 1954 suspense-thriller classic, you would be left disappointed since Wright relies heavily on exposition to tell the story.
Most of the characters are sketchily underwritten, despite enlisting a potentially promising cast such as Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh and even Gary Oldman, who last appeared in Wright’s Darkest Hour that finally won him his first Oscar for Best Actor. Whereas Julianne Moore does make quite an impression in her otherwise limited scene, Gary Oldman looks as if he’s showing up for an easy paycheck by simply shouting his lines, as evidently seen during one of the scenes with Amy Adams’ Anna. Jennifer Jason Leigh, in the meantime, is largely relegated to a thankless role.
Thankfully, The Woman in the Window is far from a poorly-made film. It wasn’t a great one either. Just decent enough for a Rear Window-like knockoff that does deliver some worthwhile moments, beginning with Wright’s typically showy direction. Although the film mostly takes place within the confines of Anna’s brownstone, Wright and his cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel manage to find interesting ways in terms of shot composition and camerawork. At times, the film ventures into a few surrealistic moments that mirror Anna’s perplexing state of mind. Then, there’s Amy Adams, whose neurotic acting is among the saving graces in this film.
Interestingly enough, The Woman in the Window wasn’t intended to be released straight to Netflix. In fact, it was originally set for cinema release in 2019 but following a poor test screening, the now-defunct Fox 2000 Pictures ordered the reshoots with Tony Gilroy — who famously came in the last minute to work on Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story reshoots — reportedly handled the rewrites. By the time the film got pushed to 2020, the film became the victim of the Disney-Fox merger and the fact that Fox 2000 Pictures itself subsequently shut down as well.
The Woman in the Window is currently streaming on Netflix.