Director Charlie McDowell returns to our screens with Windfall, his latest effort for Netflix. While not exactly reinventing the wheel in terms of genre storytelling, it is a tight, well-acted and executed film, with the three leads making the most of the material and turning in excellent performances. Despite some heavy-handedness in the delivery of the message, it’s a mostly competent film that is carried by the acting.
Windfall sees Jason Segel playing an unnamed character. As we open, he is sort of bumming around a nice mansion in California, complete with orange groves that evoke Chinatown. He’s clearly not meant to be there, as he enters and immediately wipes all handles of his fingerprints. He searches the house and comes up with a fair amount of cash and a Rolex, as well as a gun.
An interruption arrives by way of the owner and his wife (Lilly Collins). From here the film becomes a tense three-hander, as Segel holds the couple hostage. His initial satisfaction at his first haul leads only to the discovery of a security camera by the entrance. This changes his plans as he doesn’t want to get caught, and demands the tech billionaire (Jesse Plemons) pay him $500,000. The billionaire arranges this, and the film unfolds as the three get to know each other under forced circumstances.
Tonal Anomalies, Genre Cliches
What unfolds is perhaps what is expected of a piece like this, as Segel is the dangerous stranger whose motives are not clear, Plemons is the put-upon, heartless rich character who has made his fortune on the backs of others, and Collins is the wife who harbours secrets and resentments.
It might have been more interesting if McDowell had written the characters against type, say for example had Plemons’ and Segels’ characters discover they have more in common than initially thought, and form a bond.
The piece also does suffer from some tonal inconsistencies. It veers from near-comedic (Segel’s character comes across as fairly inept, which is not helped by his overall career reputation) to satirical to in one particular spot of the film horrific.
What it Lacks and What it Has
Ultimately, Windfall fails to deliver the suspense of better entries in the genre, after an intriguing and tense first-act set-up descends into cliche territory. The message of the film basically boils down to “money makes people bad and leads to terrible choices,” which is not exactly groundbreaking, especially in the post-GFC world we live in.
What the film does have is three pretty great performances from its leads. Segel, in particular, is a highlight. Despite his ineptitude coming across as occasionally frustrating, the menace with which he plays his character is pretty impressive. He manages to nail the unpredictability of a man who would invade someone’s home and hold them hostage. And there’s a volatility and quiet rage to the character that is just below the surface. It draws you in as an audience member.
Plemons plays the venom-spitting, self-serving capitalist with aplomb. He makes the most of his chops as a ‘bad guy’, which earns him attention in other projects like “Breaking Bad”. There are nuances to his performance as well, and his interactions with his wife make for some interesting drama. Collins is also very good as the wife who is so overshadowed by her domineering husband, she is barely allowed a voice. And the anger and frustration this causes her boils over in spectacular fashion.
A Good “Sunday Afternoon” Watch
Ultimately, Windfall isn’t going to win any awards. Nor is it going to be remembered as a benchmark or classic. However, it does have its moments and is carried by three very good performances. Personally, I’m a fan of Segel’s. After a hiatus from Hollywood, he seems to be slowly returning to the fold. ln doing so, he takes his career away from the more bumbling comedic roles we know him for; and into something a bit different.
“Windfall” is perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Particularly for fans of the psychological thriller genre, there is plenty to enjoy here.
“Windfall” is streaming on Netflix now. Check out the official trailer below:
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