A twisty variation of Alfred Hitchcock’s beloved masterpiece of suspense, Rear Window, this movie was supposed to have been theatrically released way back in 2019, but was pulled for more reshoots, edits, and that nasty pandemic thingy. Did that stay of execution help?
Based on the novel by A.J. Finn (aka Daniel Mallory), this movie follows the manic adventures of Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams), an ex-child psychologist who is hold-up in her super-nice, three-story Lower East Side Manhattan brownstone, a place that is never explained on just how she can afford it. Plagued with crippling agoraphobia and hallucinations due to something in her past, Anna passes her time watching old movies (like Rear Window) and the neighbors across the street, talking to her estranged husband (Anthony Mackie) and young daughter on the phone, and getting advice from her psychiatrist, Dr. Landy (screenwriter Tracy Letts). She also occasionally chats with her tenant, David Winter (Wyatt Russell), who rents out the basement.
One day, she gets a visit from Ethan (Fred Hechinger), the new neighbor’s 15-year-old, who has a present from his mother, Jane Russell. Ethan is shy, reclusive, and acts a little off. Pretty soon, Jane (Julianne Moore) comes a’callin and she’s a high-spirited woman that Anna develops an instant friendship with. BUT!! After hearing screams one night, Anna looks out the window (using her camera) and sees Jane get murdered! Oh no! She calls the cops, but when they arrive, they show up with a livid Mr. Russell (Gary Oldman) who tells them Anna is crazy. And for proof, he shows them his very-much-alive wife, Jane (Jennifer Jason Leigh), but it’s NOT the same woman that Anna remembers! Uh-oh!
Even with this “proof’, Anna believes she’s not crazy and decides to investigate on her own, which leads her down a never-ending rabbit hole of deceit and deception that she tries to unravel. Problem is, as she presents her “findings” to the police, they burst her bubble with logic, facts, and news she didn’t want to hear. Was she crazy all this time? Did she hallucinate everything she saw? Was she trying to put two and two together and come up with five? Then comes the head-scratching, “Wait, WHAT??!!” ending that makes you question your own sanity, as screenwriter Letts drops a bombshell on you, the viewer.
This, coming from the man who wrote the brilliant August: Osage County and Bug. Although this IS a novel adaptation, Letts lets his guard down and writes a bizarrely odd duck of a movie that had great potential, if not for the cuckoo direction of Joe Wright, who gave us the ridiculously strange Pan in 2015 and the equally off-beat Hanna. Here, it’s like Wright is in film school, trying to duplicate Sam Raimi, Alfred Hitchcock, and Darren Aronofsky with some of the wildest, weirdest, WTH directions ever. I’ll admit, some of it worked (the rooftop scene), but many of it didn’t (the car wreck).
Amy Adams, sans makeup and sporting dirty hair, does a great job at portraying the agoraphobic, but the script had too many limitations and didn’t have enough punch for her talents to really go nuts. The others are rather bland and two-dimensional, with some stand-outs. Gary Oldman has some nice moments in the small role he has, just like Julianne Moore’s wonderful extended cameo. Hechinger is trying for the Edward Norton/Primal Fear award and nearly succeeds, but my money is on Wyatt Russell who just oozed creepy realism throughout the film. I wonder what the original film looked like before all the reshoots and edits? Hmm…
**Now streaming exclusively on Netflix
Rear Window (1954)
Let’s face it, nobody did suspense like this guy. Alfred Hitchcock made some of the best shockers around that we STILL talk about today, like The Birds, North By Northwest, Psycho, Rope, and this nail-biter about an ordinary man stuck in a wheelchair who sees way too much.
His name is L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart), but everyone calls him Jeff. He’s a professional photographer that, unfortunately, is stuck in his Greenwich, NYC apartment while recuperating from a broken leg. He gets along okay in a wheelchair and, since it’s a scorcher in the Big Apple, he has all his windows open that look out into the courtyard below, including his neighbor’s apartments across from him. Utterly bored, Jeff spends his time checking them out, like the middle-aged couple with a small dog that likes digging in the flower garden, and Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), a traveling jewelry salesman with a bedridden wife.
Jeff gets the occasional visitor, his socialite girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly, before she became a real Princess) and Stella (Thelma Ritter), a registered nurse. Everything’s fine… until a dark and stormy night when Jeff hears a woman scream “Don’t!!” and then sees (or thinks he sees) his neighbor, Lars, making repeated trips from his apartment carrying different suitcases after he sees Lars cleaning a large knife and handsaw! Uh-oh! Naturally, Jeff shares this story with Lisa and Stella, who believe him as they observe Lars acting suspiciously. Jeff becomes convinced that Thorwald murdered & then chopped up his wife.
Jeff calls his friend Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey), an NYPD detective, and asks him to investigate Lars, but Doyle finds nothing suspicious. But after the neighbor’s nosey dog is mysteriously killed, Jeff won’t let it go and concocts a plan to prove that Lars did it. He makes a prank phone in order for Lars to leave, so Lisa can investigate his apartment. BUT!! Lars returns early, trapping Lisa inside! Oh no!! Thinking quickly, Jeff calls the police, but as he does, he sees (through his camera’s telephoto lens) Lisa signaling him. Lars picks up on this and now knows Jeff is behind the break-in! Uh-oh!!
The ending is a nail-biting, heart-pounding, hands-in-front-of-your-face moment when Lars goes after Jeff and the police are on their way. Based on the1942 short story, It Had to Be Murder, John Michael Hayes wrote the script, as he did for several of Hitchcock’s films (The Trouble With Harry, To Catch A Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much), and this one soared in every detail. And, of course, you had Hollywood’s best, Jimmy Stewart in the lead (he did four Hitchcock films) along with beautiful Grace Kelly (three Hitchcock films), so these two well-seasoned pros knew their craft and how to handle the formidable and sometimes off-putting Hitch.
Box office-wise, it made serious bank and garnered tons of accolades & awards from Academy to BAFTA. Considered a bona fide classic by the National Registry and AFI, it has since gotten a bit of a reputation (but not in a good way) for its depiction of voyeurism, with some saying that Jeff’s character was nothing more than a ‘peeping Tom’ and shouldn’t have been lauded as a hero. Jeepers! Well, at least you have Hitchcock’s signature of showing up in a cameo somewhere in the movie. Look for the director in an apartment window hanging a clock!