A good hostage drama hasn’t come along in quite a while, and if you add robbery into the mix, the thrills need to be distinctive for the film to make an impact. The inherent drama of a group of people joined together in a situation that presents danger and tension seems like it should be hard to mess up. The new Netflix offering in this genre has its share of flaws, however. Windfall, unfortunately, mixes some strong stylistic and visual choices with a story that collapses in the final act.
“You have everything and I have nothing.”
The film telegraphs its spare and austere style from the first frame. Jason Segel plays a robber going through the California desert vacation home of a tech billionaire and the first seven minutes is wordless until the house’s owner (Jesse Plemons) and his wife (Lily Collins) show up unexpectedly. A quick escape becomes impossible when a neighbor’s security camera is discovered, so the CEO suggests a large payout to start over for good. This means they must all wait together overnight until the money arrives.
Touches of humor in the story’s opening section suggest that the filmmaker Charlie McDowell might be shooting for the tone of a tragicomic farce. But that turns out to be a misdirect, whether intentional or not. What actually happens becomes at times too oblique to engage the audience’s sympathies for any of the characters. Then the concluding third of the film serves up a surprisingly violent turn of events and a final scene that feels ill-suited to the story that came before.
“You are a good person.”
Part of the reason why the ending doesn’t work here is the way the characters are established. The script attempts to make a universal statement by not naming its characters. The robber is Nobody, for example. The CEO complains about being a “target” as a rich white guy. The Wife (yes, that’s the way the character is credited) is little more than a cipher. Segel, Plemons, and Collins create a dynamic that feels deeper than what the screenplay actually provides for them.
The setting for these characters is stark and claustrophobic, which is an excellent choice, and I also thought the music was memorable with a Classic Hollywood tone to it. But I also felt that the early promise of the premise lost intensity and emotion as the story came to an end. With one character, in particular, the narrative descended into shock value. Authentic growth that has been prepared for would have been much better. Ultimately, Windfall offers a payoff that’s less than it should be.
3 1/2 stars out of 5
Windfall is now streaming on Netflix.