Efficient and well-acted, Charlie McDowell’s Windfall turns a simple story into a complex portrait of greed, relationships, and how quickly the best-laid plans can spin out of control.
Jason Segal stars as an unnamed robber, who breaks into the vacation home of a wealthy CEO (Jesse Plemons). The robber lounges in the backyard, wanders the grounds, then collects some valuables before preparing to leave. As he reaches the door, the CEO and his wife (Lily Collins) arrive unexpectedly. While trying to leave, the wife discovers the robber, which forces him to hold the couple hostage.
Intending to leave quickly, the robber gets a few more valuables from the couple, takes their phones, and heads to the car after locking them in their sauna. Ready to leave, the robber spots a camera recording him. Knowing his options have changed, he heads back and confronts the couple and demands more money. The CEO can get the money, but it won’t be until the next evening. The three then wait out the day and night together.
While the CEO’s greed and lavish wealth is a point, it is not the focus. The robber’s motive isn’t revealed until the end of the film, but it isn’t some grand stance on capitalism. The film is more focused on the elements of human nature that make people do the things they do. When the CEO rails against people who ask for money, his wife rightfully asks if she and her charity are in the same boat.
At the same time, the hostage situation has a lighter tone. It is taken as a serious situation, but the robber’s large physical presence is the contributing factor. He is never too terribly menacing, but the nature of the situation keeps everyone in their place. When small attempts to rebel are made, they are called out and criticized by the other two parties (usually the wife and the robber).
Eventually, when events escalate out of control, further steps to mitigate are made, to fruitless avail. There is no true sympathetic character, but no one is truly vilified either. Each of these characters exist in a grey area between hero and villian.
Segal plays the robber as a mix of quiet menace and confident doofus. He never comes across as stupid, but he also has not thought this entire process through either. While the audience keeps expecting his trademark humor, he keeps it under the surface. Plemons gets to deploy that humor more bombastically. He is obviously enjoying himself and it comes through as a well-spoken and cocksure man. He plays the CEO as a man who just knows that everything will eventually work out just fine, which adds a sheen of hateability.
Collins has the most tricky of the three roles, stuck between the two men. While obviously devoted to her husband, she also never seems on his side. At the same time, any appeal towards the robber feels purposefully choppy. While both men are the heroes of their own story, Collins plays the wife as supporting until she realizes she doesn’t have to be. It’s the best performance of her young career.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, filmmakers have had to get inventive with storytelling and setting. To McDowell’s credit, the film never feels like it was filmed in a bubble. The story organically lends itself to its setting and sparsity of characters. While the action primarily takes place in a closed setting, the house is bathed in light and the horizon stretches. Despite the geographical seclusion, the world feels opened.
McDowell and the three performers elevate Windfall above other adult-minded dramas. Clocking in at a thrifty 92 minutes, the journey is more than worth your time.
Windfall is currently streaming on Netflix.