Windfall Review: Jesse Plemons Shines In Well-Crafted Netflix Thriller

Windfall is a coherent and cohesive thriller that dabbles with dark comedy and benefits from having a small cast and a beautiful single location. Directed and co-written by Charlie McDowell, the film follows Jesse Plemons and Lily Collins as an unnamed married couple and Jason Segel as a man who breaks into their vacation home somewhere in California. What begins as an absurd home burglary gone wrong turns into a battle of wills between the trio as they navigate a precarious situation.

As good as the trio is, Windfall belongs to Jesse Plemons. He plays an obnoxious, rich tech bro who has hoarded an insane amount of wealth for himself while building a program that eliminates entire workforces. He is not one to cheer for, which is a root cause for the tension in the film. It is a layered role that is constantly shifting. In one moment, Plemons will be sarcastic asshole who isn’t much to think about before shifting into a menacing egomaniac who clearly exhibits a dangerous mentality that is ruining the world. Plemons' charisma is palpable, which makes it seem like his co-stars are chasing after him throughout the film.

Related: Jason Segel Robs Jesse Plemons & Lily Collins In Netflix's Windfall Trailer

Jason Segel, Lily Collins, and Jesse Plemons in Windfall

Collins' performance is more subdued, balancing the conditional benevolence of a rich white woman with a character who is aware of her contradictions and the sacrifices she has made to be wealthy. Segel is a bit of a jack of all trades here, balancing a goofy, dangerous, and sad portrayal of a desperate man.The other star of this film is Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaanss’ score, which kicks off the characters' two-day journey. It is the kind of score that is meant to be noticed because it has character. The score builds the tension, unease, suspense, and comedy in every given moment, pulling audiences in rather than taking them out of the experience. Paired with McDowell’s controlled directing choices, it allows the actors to take up more space to thrive.

Windfall is an excellent example of the Chekhov's gun principle. It is as if McDowell constructed the entire film around this dramatic principle, which suggests that every element in a story must be necessary. Key details are referred to a couple of times, each revealing components about the characters that will be relevant to their fates. Some details are merely distractions from the clear path this story will take, diversions that make one wonder, “Is this what it's all about?” The film could only succeed by balancing a narrative built on clues and callbacks — and it works. For others, Windfall may be too simplistic or overindulgent. The latter is justified by a predictable ending that is, in fact, indulgent, but not to the film's detriment.

Jason Segel in Windfall

However, McDowell, alongside co-producers Plemons, Collins, and Segel make a fatal error in the third act. Depending on the how the audience takes it, it will either ruin the film entirely or be an unfortunate blemish to overlook upon a rewatch. Windfall does seem like the type to get better upon a rewatch when viewers are in the know about the outcome. But the decision to introduce another person in the third act and have them exist solely to ratchet up tension is badly executed. It plays into a trope most commonly found in horror that has been much maligned for a reason. This choice obviously serves to underscore Collins and Segel’s characters' empathetic nature in contrast with Plemons’ self-serving attributes, but it ultimately comes across as a gross miscalculation.

All in all, Windfall is a modest little thriller that thrives on excellent performances from its cast, a confident director at the helm, and a score that keeps up the momentum from beginning to end. A stumble in the third act derails the whole adventure, bringing the enjoyment to a screeching halt. However, with some foresight, Windfall could have been a sure-fire hit.

NEXT: Against The Ice Review: Coster-Waldau Leads Gritty, Searing Arctic Adventure

Windfall is streaming on Netflix as of Friday, March 18. The film is 93 minutes long and is rated R for language and violence.

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