Charlie McDowell’s Windfall veers toward being too light on incident, but its actors make the tense, testy power games among their (unnamed) characters compelling. It’s possible to guess early on how the movie’s sympathies will all shake out–and how those sympathies will shape the plotting–but the strangeness and the pressure-cooker atmosphere work to its advantage. Even if the general outline is predictable, the details are interesting.
A CEO (Jesse Plemons) and his wife (Lily Collins) take an unscheduled trip to their gorgeous vacation home and wind up interrupting a robbery: a squatter (Jason Segel) has been sitting by their pool, pissing in their shower, and cleaning out their spare cash. At first, his plan is to just barricade them in their sauna–they’ll get out, it’ll just take a while–and drive away, but then he spots the security cameras the CEO promised him weren’t on the property. His face is going to be all over the footage, and that means he’ll need a little more money to get away with all this. He needs enough to disappear, and getting it will take time.
The problem is, he’s a nobody who’s out of his depth. He doesn’t know how to handle a robbery or a prolonged hostage situation. He doesn’t even know how much money to demand: One of the movie’s best beats comes when he asks for only $150k for his big getaway and the CEO and his wife wind up haggling against themselves (“Yeah, I think you’re probably going to want more”).
Their reasons there are also revealing. The wife feels a kind of awkward sympathy for Nobody, despite everything, and she has the reflexive desire to stop him from making some kind of major gaffe. She sees a continuity between them that he absolutely rejects. The CEO, on the other hand, just can’t resist flaunting his competence and composure. (When he eventually takes a risk he shouldn’t, it feels like it’s because he needs to prove that he saw an opportunity, even if all the signs were screaming not to take it.) “I’ve had to hold his hand for the last 36 hours and help him rob me,” he complains at one point, and it’s accurate and cutting but also kind of his own fault.
What makes Plemons’s character interesting is that in a lot of ways, his behavior really is competent and occasionally even admirable. He’s not a coward, either, although part of that may simply be the bland, arrogant confidence that nothing too bad could ever happen to him. He sees himself as on top of the social pyramid, graciously and authoritatively managing everyone else–but he doesn’t account for anyone else having any kind of emotional reality or inner life. They’re just complex systems to be managed. All the performances are good, but I give Plemons the edge. The other two characters are technically more interesting–they’re more dramatic wild cards-but there’s a certain force to the CEO, like he’s the bizarre result of cross-pollination between Shakespeare and noir.
Between this and The One I Love, McDowell is clearly making a habit of directing troubled marriage movies set in isolated, gorgeous houses, and it’s a pattern that’s worth continuing.
Windfall is streaming on Netflix.