Windfall (2022) Directed by Charlie McDowell
The formal dryness of this film is so hopelessly disjointed from the unsatisfying sound design and the insufferable, moribund, drowsy drama, that all the scenes that should have depended on a methodical dramatic design in tense suspense become conversational scenes duller than a basic politician’s monologue.
I am not a supporter of Charlie McDowell’s still short filmography, nor do I think he is a competent director, and in this film his lack of aesthetic expression in the drama is more than evident. It’s not that the film is bad for its persuasive use of minimalism as a storytelling scheme, nor is it flawed for its insistence on the use of wide shot compositions, it’s the scarcity of rigor in how the plot is enunciated through such inoperative conceits. The script is seemingly written with straightforward development, and with predictable thriller formulas, yet it strives to articulate thematic ambivalences that leave a narrative void of such insipidity that it is frustrating to have to endure its short duration, which feels exhausting.
Worst of all, a thriller of this nature should ”work,” not quite well but it should at least produce an atmosphere of menace and anxious sensations, yet here each act structured in the most theatrically monotonous way, gives no room for gripping emotions or even claustrophobia in its isolated spaces, and my hypothesis is that it is simply not given elementary functions to achieve that dramatic density. Charlie McDowell is more attentive to what other cool composition he would perform rather than paying attention to the hierarchy of the pusillanimous cuts, when the performances most demand formal aggressiveness, the camera performs timid panning that erases the energy needed for this kind of narrative. At least, if there is one positive thing I can say, it is that the film never tries to go off on a tangent, it knows its limits, and that is something I appreciate.
Windfall maintains the principle of the minuscule, a cast of only four actors, all in the same space. The characters written with an insolent inexpressiveness, share a strongly thematic relationship, maintaining a balance between the very obvious and the very diffuse; it is never clear exactly what functions they fulfill in this thriller, which wants to say a lot but has no idea how. Lily Collins is as bland as ever, and her refined but emotionally inert model face does what she can playing a character even more soporific than she is. Personally, I think the only one who stands out and gives a rock solid performance is Jesse Plemons, he does the impossible with this substandard script and invigorates the details of non-existent drama by giving it at least acting gravitas.
Symbolically, the film is a complete fiasco, the plot never resolves its blurred intentions established from the beginning, what only elucidates, is the drastic change between the points of view that we are given to judge the characters. That can be seen in the first sympathetic, cooperative and easy-going attitude of the kidnapped with their kidnapper; the internal and then external conflict seems to have existentialist overtones that never quite work, but generate a collision between the socio-economic positions of the protagonists, turning the narrative more towards a comparative side, in which we judge the actions not by the superficial but by the ambiguous. None of these ideas are creative, much less ensure a solid and intriguing entertainment, it is a very vague film, without personality and without the necessary ability to carry out its complexities.
The film, as I indicated, is based on airtight argumentative principles, compacted in a plot recycled from other films already made. It is about a man who, while walking aimlessly, interrupts in the privacy of a house far from the city, to his luck, the house is without its owners, with no one to interrupt his misdeeds; however, while he is stealing all the money he finds in that lonely house, a married couple unexpectedly arrives at his house. The owner of the house is a presumptuous, relaxed and wealthy man who apparently has so much money to spare that he decides to give a juicy sum to the thief, yet, he will not be able to get his hands on the money until the next day, so the fearful and paranoid thief will keep them kidnapped until then.
The production of this film manages to give the minimalism a certain appeal, that’s undeniable, and at least provides a functional setting; but it’s only functional in terms of what could have been done with that simple setting. Director Charlie McDowell has no central idea of how a thriller works, that’s more than visible, his inclination as a director is more for photographic pretentiousness. That obstinate inclination is certainly desperate, it makes the drama something insubstantial, it is enough to pay attention to the emphasis of the spacious visual compositions to understand how that heterogeneity ruins the drama of this film. Windfall begins with a comatose visual storytelling, which says nothing more than a guy hanging around a field, then he enters a house and we discover that he is a thief; until then the suspense is maintained, not in the ideal way but it is sustained enough to establish a convincing plot. The problems start to become noticeable when that formal vanity has no dramatic instrumentation, once the key scenes start to form, the editing generally loses control, not by making inadmissible cuts but by not giving those cuts any function, it’s a film quite unconnected to what it wants to be.
The structure is farcically classic, and the development boringly rudimentary, you know where the plot is going to go from minute one and it’s also a film that naively ignores its audience; in my perspective the absence of attention to the conflicting events in the internal emotionality of the characters is what makes the plot very obvious. The simple detail of approaching a more emotionally insightful perusal towards the characters is what would have energized the narrative, but Charlie McDowell’s shallow patience to pursue tension with stealth and stylistic identity does a tremendous disservice to the thematic interplay that originates in the character confrontations. The film is bad, and downright terrible for its incompetence, but it is more bad for its incoordination to make something interesting. The denouement that I would rather call it ‘a third act full of absurdities’ leaves you with an unfinished feeling, ridiculously McDowell believes that leaving an open ending, and leaving free interpretation, automatically makes the film brainy, for that to have sense and greater robustness it must first anticipate a logic to the narrative and a bold approach in the drama to then leave an ambivalent space. Here nothing happens, it is sketchy in its execution and totally disinterested in its themes.