PLOT: A man breaks into a tech billionaire’s empty vacation home, but things go awry when the arrogant mogul and his wife arrive for a last-minute getaway.
EVALUATION: Stroke of luck has an enticingly clever premise and is backed by strong performances from its cast. The downside is that there’s really no one to root for in the film because all of the characters are very morally flawed. There are no heroes to cling to, but if you want to watch nefarious characters maneuvering their way through the film’s plot, this latest Netflix release should satisfy you.
The great majority of Stroke of luck concerns three people, none of whom have a name. They are referred to as Nobody (Jason Segel), CEO (Jesse Plemons), and Wife (Lily Collins). No one has broken into the CEO and his wife’s vacation home, and he’s about to escape when they arrive unexpectedly. They all end up stuck in the house together because Nobody never intended to hurt anyone, but he’s not ready to get caught either, so they can’t let the CEO and his wife go or call the police. He’s willing to get out of there and let them go if they give him enough money. The problem is that it’s going to take time to make that kind of money, even for a CEO who’s a tech billionaire. So they all have to wait together.
To reveal more about what’s happening in Stroke of luck would be a disservice to viewers. There are some surprises and what is unfolding is disturbing and exciting and very, very tense. The film also delivers a few comedic moments, given the absurdity of the situation. No one isn’t a brilliant criminal, and there are logistics to holding people hostage they didn’t anticipate when they expected to rob an unoccupied home. Often he and the CEO both seem odd, just a few buffoons of different kinds. Sometimes the comedy and suspense collide and mingle or exchange like they do in the CEO’s lavish orange grove.
The film is directed by Charlie McDowell from a story credited to McDowell, Justin Lader and Jason Segel, with a screenplay by Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker. Which they created something substantial with very little. McDowell has said production on this film has been curtailed due to filming during the pandemic, and he’s using that to his advantage. The film features a small cast and a limited. This is a humble story that could easily have been a play, and the intimacy serves the plot well. In fact, much of the film takes place outside, in various parts of the sprawling property that the CEO and wife use for their getaways. McDowell utilizes a variety of backgrounds that are both lavish and economical as these three characters feel ever more trapped in this deceptively luxurious space.
The acting of all three main actors makes the movie even more fun to watch. Plemons delights in the idea of the global billionaire whose unwavering arrogance, even when held hostage, is both his greatest weapon and a glaring flaw. Collins plays Wife as a woman who has struggled to make her peace with being extraordinarily wealthy in exchange for marrying this man, and it’s a struggle no one is unsympathetic to. With a long history of lovable and likable characters, Segel brings Nobody menacingly, but balances this with a level of false bravado that suggests he doesn’t really intend for anything bad to happen.
The details in Stroke of luck are the ones that pay off in the end. It’s a stripped down thriller that proves that sometimes less is more. At just 90 minutes, the film is very tight, and it’s a film that lives up to its wickedly clever premise.