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Windfall

Released 2022. Director: Charlie McDowell

JASON SEGEL'S CHARACTER SITS BY THE POOL DRINKING FRESH JUICE. He’s surrounded by an orange grove that stretches into the distant foothills. Inside this secluded vacation home, he rummages in drawers, pockets jewellery and wads of cash and wipes his prints off door handles. That’s how we know the man who strolls leisurely and plucks fruit from the trees is not the owner but a relaxed intruder.

He shouldn’t have potter about to enjoy the scenery, for now he’s taken too long and he’s caught by surprise when the owners arrive unexpectedly to come face to face with a robber. Suddenly everyone’s plan has just gone out the windows.

Windfall confines itself to a small setting, with only three characters (a fourth briefly enters the story much later). The synopsis makes it sound like an action thriller and for the most part it tries to behave like a hostage drama with a hint of something more.

The characters are never named. Jason Segel’s robber is credited as ‘Nobody’. Jesse Plemons is ‘The CEO’ and Lily Collins is ‘The Wife’. Deliberately nameless, these characters are not so much persons as they’re presented but types, a representation of a group, such as the rich, the poor, those with power and those without. It is in the interactions between these types that you feel the story tries to delve deeper than a slow-simmer thriller on the surface. The personality, history, connections, relationships and motivations are broadly suggested but never probed sufficiently to enrich the characters or the story.

'Nobody' has come to get a taste of the life lived by the super-rich who measure their wealth with nine zeroes. He has done his research and plans to take some of their wealth, maybe as revenge, maybe for justice, going by the impression that he might have lost his job because of what the tech mogul CEO has done. You can see the CEO trying out his survival skills in the art of persuasion and negotiation, calculating and taking risks while staying cool and arrogant. The wife, meanwhile, has her own insecurities and contradictions regarding her rise to a position of wealth and clout, and something else her husband isn’t aware of just yet.

Structured like a chamber drama, the effectiveness of the story relies almost entirely on character interaction. Although the cast is convincing in sketching their individuality and hold our attention, they are hamstrung by a script that only manages to skim the surface and stubbornly remains on one level.

When circumstances prevent Nobody from making a quick getaway, the three are forced to stay within each other’s sight over 24 hours. In all that time as they try to exploit weaknesses and search for opportunities to gain the upper hand, it’s a pity the script never really fully gives us a more sympathetic understanding of the fuzzy roles of aggressor/victim among the three.

A hint at comedy early on featuring the couple escaping from a sauna with the door blocked by outdoor furniture and go on a hide and seek among the orange trees is an awkward tone blip as the movie is still settling into the idea of a hostage drama. The mid-section feels loose after the initial set-up and would really have benefited from a tighter narrative in its half-baked ambition to be a critique on inequality in the new economy of the 21st century.

We know enough about Nobody that he’s not really a bad person, just a man pushed into a corner but he is committing a crime, no two ways about it. A streak of reluctant malice, however minimal, might have enhanced Nobody, the antihero of the faceless and voiceless worker bees. Instead, when violence finally and inevitably bursts forth in the ending which involves a bloodied sculpture and three gunshots, it’s a surprise and a shock not so much that it happened, but more so because it’s the kind of resolution that’s not fully earned and doesn't make complete sense. The idea of ‘crossing the line’, a visual metaphor shown more than once, becomes a laboured point, an inelegant misstep in a movie where so much else is conveyed as suggestions.

Windfall is a hostage drama without suspense, with aspirations to be a contemporary allegory but handicapped by an inarticulate message.


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