Around halfway through Netflix’s luxurious new thriller Windfall, Jesse Plemons’ scummy CEO character leans in to whisper something in his wife’s (Lily Collins) ear. It is not sweet nothings, as one might expect from the couple, who, earlier in the movie, were flouncing around their sunny villa together, happily in love. What he says, as the pair are in the middle of a hostage situation, is a far more harrowing request.
“You need to get close to him, win him over,” he says, caressing her shoulder. She’s nonplussed by this idea, so he fires back with his logic. “We don’t know this guy. We don’t know what he intends to do once he gets the money. So, you need to get close to him. Do whatever it takes, okay? ”
As shows like The Dropout, WeCrashedand Super Pumped continue to take aim at morally corrupt (and, in many cases, fraudulent) CEOs, Windfall finally drops the company specificity and allows Plemons to embody every megalomaniacal trait under the corporate umbrella. Instead of expanding on the CEO and attached company background in a sprawling biopic saga, Windfall tells us little-to-nothing about this figurehead. What’s more terrifying than knowing absolutely nothing about a man except for how damn powerful he is?
Windfall is Netflix’s latest original film, but, surprisingly, it’s far better than the streamer’s other recent films (Rescued By Ruby? The Adam Project? No, thanks.)
Directed by The One I Love(s Charlie McDowell (who also happens to be Collins’ husband), Windfall is led by a cast of just three folks: Plemons (the CEO), Collins (the Wife), and Jason Segel (the Nobody). When the Nobody crashes the couple’s sunny estate, he holds them hostage until he’s sent a hearty ransom fee — meaning he’s got to spend 24 hours waiting around while the CEO’s assistant wires it over.
This scene noted above, accompanied by the fact that Lily Collins ‘wife character doesn’t have a name — she’s simply credited as “Wife,” same with Plemons, who is just called “CEO” —holves Plemons’ CEO in a way that petrifies beyond comparison. Just a half hour ago, this Wife tossed herself into her lover’s arms; now, pressed to spare a bit of cash, he’s flinging her back into the arms of a Nobody.
What does this CEO want, exactly? It’s a question that seems lost on even him. He wants out of this hostage situation — but maybe not, as Plemons’ character also takes a little bit of pleasure out of watching this poor guy fumble, too. When the Nobody sets his ransom fee at a mere $ 150,000, the CEO laughs in his face. “You think that’s enough?” he scoffs. It’s as if the CEO wants to be a sick and twisted mentor figure for… working-class citizens.
Another brilliant aspect of Windfall is Plemons’ quieter approach to the role — he lives in a secluded villa, after all. Unlike some of the chaotic CEOs that command all the attention one room holds (think Armie Hammer’s horrifying Steve Lift in Sorry to Bother You), this CEO is reserved. He frightens in ways other than his loud voice or snazzy outfits.
As Plemons wraps up an Oscar campaign this year for The Power of the Dog, Windfall has swept in to remind us just how well he commands a scene. (Plus, how does one go from Game Night it I’m Thinking of Ending Things to this?)
“Though it’s a little too on-the-nose, this rant feels like it was ripped straight from an Elon Musk Twitter thread.”
When the movie nears its bloody conclusion, the CEO pleads with the Nobody to level with him. Even though this guy is broke and floundering his way out of poverty, the CEO goes to great lengths to convince him that his life’s not that bad. Hey, being rich is way worse.
“Do you want to be me? Is that it? Because let me fucking tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Try being a rich white guy these days. Everyone always thinks it must be real fucking nice, ”he whines. “There’s a fucking permanent target on my back, and infinite nothing people out there just waiting for me to fail!” Sure.
Though it’s a little too on-the-nose, this rant feels like it was ripped straight from an Elon Musk Twitter thread. Plemons’ nameless CEO could be any of the billionaires among us today: Musk, Jeff Bezos, you name it. We don’t need a specific CEO to play the antagonist — any old megalomaniac will do, thank you very much.
One might feel the urge to glaze over Windfall as too low-key to be a thriller, but Plemons single-handedly makes the film an enticing watch. Instead of bingeing your way through hours of CEOs as they rise and fall and rise and fall and rise — etc., Windfall paints the portrait in a tight 90 minutes. Now, go enjoy life without one of those pesky “permanent targets” on your back!