Debuting Friday on Netflix, “The Woman in the Window” steals director Joe Wright away from his literature and history adaptations into shadowy Hitchcock territory, where he seems frightfully comfortable.
The movie is based on a bestselling novel by A.J. Finn, and just about every aspect of it has been seen before, including in the 1954 Barbara Stanwyck thriller “Witness to Murder,” 1995’s San Francisco-shot “Copycat” and Hitchcock’s own “Rear Window.” Even the title matches Fritz Lang’s great, paranoid 1944 film with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett.
Yet Wright’s films — though based in the written word — are often surprisingly visual: the five-minute long shot of the Dunkirk evacuation in “Atonement” and incredible outdoor sequences in “Hanna,” for example. He’s strong with interiors, too, as the fluid, twirling 2012 “Anna Karenina” and kinetic bunker sequences of “Darkest Hour.”
He brings that energy to “The Woman in the Window,” which is almost entirely set in a sprawling, cavernous Manhattan brownstone, painted in swatches of darkness and color from streetlights, windows and curtains, and strewn with bric-a-brac.
Child psychologist Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams), who suffers from crippling agoraphobia, and her fluffy cat, Punch, live there.
Anna speaks regularly to her husband (Anthony Mackie) and young daughter (Mariah Bozeman) on the phone, though they are separated. Her tenant, David (Wyatt Russell), who lives in the basement and has his own entrance, tries to help her when he can.
She receives in-home treatment from Dr. Landy (Tracy Letts, the brilliant playwright of “Killer Joe,” “Bug” and “August: Osage County,” who adapted this screenplay). Landy decides to change Anna’s meds, although he doesn’t know she drinks wine with her pills.
He does know about the goings-on in Anna’s neighborhood, as observed by Anna from her big picture windows.
It’s a big day when new neighbors move in across the street. One night, teen Ethan (Fred Hechinger) drops by on a mission from his mother to deliver a new-neighbor gift.
Ethan is a bit strange (“I like cats’ tongues”), but sweet, and he winds up borrowing old movies from Anna’s vast DVD collection. (Movie buffs will have fun trying to recognize classics forever playing on Anna’s TV.)
Then Jane Russell (Julianne Moore), Ethan’s mother, pops over for a visit. She’s nutty but fun, and the women drink and talk.
Anna gets the impression that Mr. Russell (Gary Oldman) may not be the nicest man, and her suspicions are confirmed later when he slaps Ethan in front of her.
Then, while spying through the window, Anna sees Jane murdered, stabbed, and the killer is conveniently unseen. She calls the police.
When detectives Little (Brian Tyree Henry) and Norelli (Jeanine Serralles) show up, Anna is horrified to see a different Jane (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Mr. Russell insists there never was another Jane.
No one believes Anna. Moreover, her drinking and meds make it look as if she’s been hallucinating all along.
Anna begins her own investigation from her apartment; cleverly, a Google search for “Jane Russell” brings up many images of the sultry movie star of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” fame.
The screenplay is full of weird little wordplays, things that sound almost normal, but still slightly off and may — or may not — provide clues to something coming.
This dialogue also fuels excellent performances, connecting to another Wright strength. In seven films, he has coaxed Oscar-nominated or winning performances from Keira Knightley (“Pride & Prejudice”), Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”) and Oldman (“Darkest Hour”).
Moore, though onscreen briefly in a few scenes, gives perhaps the first great, scene-stealing performance of 2021. It’s ripe and devilish, from a character that makes you want to see the film again.
Adams does heavy lifting as well, with her largely internalized, distorted emotional core. She assembles layers of fact and fiction and activity and inertia into a complex web of a woman.
Physically, she looks like she’s struggled. She wears curtain-y robes and her face is pale and puffy due to too much wine and too many pills.
Adams is especially powerful in scenes where Anna reaches a dead end, with nothing more to drive her.
Yet even though “The Woman in the Window” is well-made, conventionality inevitably wins, with a big “Rear Window”-like showdown and a slam-banger of an ending during a rainstorm. It’s no “Knives Out,” but it’s good, simple, non-ambiguous fun.
And home viewers during the pandemic may enjoy an added layer of suspense as they await, fingers crossed, the moment when Anna finally, hopefully, maybe, gets to leave the house.
The Woman in the Window
Starring: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Fred Hechinger
Written by: Tracy Letts
Directed by: Joe Wright
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes