Joe Wright’s The Woman In The Window

Joe Wright’s The Woman In The Window is one of those big, expensive, star studded thrillers you used to see in the 90’s a lot, ones that would have folks like Harrison Ford or Julia Roberts headlining, always backed up by a galaxy of impressive supportive talent. Here it’s Amy Adams, an actress I’m almost convinced can do pretty much anything she’s so good, playing an agoraphobic ex-psychologist who has been hiding away in her Manhattan brownstone for several months following some vague traumatic incident. She has regular sessions with an unhelpful shrink (an uncredited Tracey Letts, also adapting a screenplay from AJ Finn’s novel) and speaks forlornly with her estranged husband (Anthony Mackie, heard and not seen) over the phone, until her new neighbours across the way give her a real fright when she believes she witnesses a violent murder one night while spying from her window. The frantic husband (an explosively intense Gary Oldman with an accent I’ve never heard him do that I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist in the real world) insists nothing happened, his odd wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) looks on, a shady mystery woman (Julianne Moore) lurks about the place, and the cop (Brian Tyree Henry) in charge of helping out doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything. This film is an obvious homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and this is apparent in not only the central premise but many of the shots, colour schemes, musical cues and even old school movies that Amy has crooning in the background as she gets absolutely torqued on booze/medication cocktails to drive out the memory of some horrific past. I was more engaged with the narrative when it was about her and this past that has caused her to become such a ragged recluse. There’s a genuine mystery there and it’s shot and presented in a surprisingly artistic, unconventional and kaleidoscopic fashion that shirks the standards of dry Hollywood glossy cinematography these films usually employ and had me thoroughly immersed. The mystery as to what’s going on next door regarding this troubled family is also engaging in a lurid, potboiler kind of way, a bit overblown and melodramatic for its own sake but every plot turn and explanation does eventually check out, even if the road getting there is a bit of a loopy one. The acting is all solid, with Adams going all out for a truly impressive performance, Oldman being the most fired up and scary I’ve seen him since maybe Book Of Eli, which is a nice change of pace from his usual restraint of late. It’s far from the most original thriller out there and feels a bit scattered at times, but there’s a lot to enjoy with standout work from Adams and the trippy, borderline surreal internal world of her mind, with intense visual cues probing at a haunting mystery the film deftly withholds from us for some time juxtaposed against the stark, steep geography of her apartment full of curling staircases, gaunt angles and one hell of a rooftop patio, all brought to life by a creepy score from Danny Elfman, of all people. Fun times, if a bit… overstuffed for a 100 minute film.

-Nate Hill

Jim Mickle’s Cold In July

Cold In July is a fairly ambiguous title that’s just this side of sinister but could mean anything. To writer director team Jim Mickle and Nick Damici, it means an unbearably intense mystery about fathers and sons, evil rearing it’s head in small town America, noir, perhaps the first buddy flick with three leads and a beautifully crafted 80’s aesthetic complete with an electronic John Carpenter style score that makes the film.

Michael ‘Dexter’ C. Hall plays a somewhat meek family man who accidentally shoots a prowler in his living room one summer night. Case closed? Not really, as it seems the burglar has a father (Sam Shepherd) who comes looking for answers. This guy is both a veteran and an ex con though, which makes him about the hardest piece of work you could find, but… soon it’s apparent that something isn’t quite right. The county Sheriff (Damici also doubles as a very fine actor) is clearly not being straight with Hall, dodging specific questions and veiling the truth. Eventually there’s an uneasy truce between Hall and Shepherd as they try to smoke out a deep set conspiracy, but things *really* kick into high gear with the arrival of Don Johnson’s Jim Bob Luke, a private detective with attitude to spare who blasts into the narrative in a giant red Cadillac convertible that becomes its own character and signifies a certain liveliness for the second two acts.

One of the coolest things about this one is that it’s billed as a mystery, which it lives up to and then some. From where it starts out as a nightmarish home invasion thriller to the levels of truth uncovered in the final act is quite the journey, an unpredictable journey that gets shockingly dark and perverse yet always retains a sense of humour, is constantly exciting and atmospheric. It always helps when the characters you take a trip like this with are engaging, and the dynamic between the three is something special. Hall is innocent enough until the darkness shows up at his door, Shepherd is the man of few words and lots of action, a cantankerous, difficult man whose moral compass eventually comes brutally into the forefront. Johnson straight up steals the show though, Jim Bob may well be his best character and even though the guy is kind of larger than life and ridiculous, he still fits within the narrative and Don makes him a tangible human being underneath the gloss and bluster. Watch for Wyatt Russell (Kurt’s kid), Happy Anderson, Lenny Flaherty and Vinessa Shaw. The original score by Jeff Grace is so damn good and carries this story nervously scene to scene with nerve shattering tension and those classic electronic synth tones that are coming back in such a big way. This was kind of overlooked on release but stands as tall as any big budget Hollywood crime thriller I’ve seen, and taller than many. Mickle keeps the direction tight and streamlined but allows for moments of character while keeping the story hurtling along with terrific momentum. Great film.

-Nate Hill