Secret Window (2004) / Thriller-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sexual content and language (I'd rate it R)
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, Charles S. Dutton, Timothy Hutton, Len Cariou
Director: David Koepp
Screenplay: David Koepp
Review published March 19, 2004
Note: This review doesn't contain any overt spoilers, but film savvy readers may pick up on some things they may not want to know. Skip the next paragraph if you don't want to take any chances.
Stir of Echoes writer-director David Koepp returns to the genre with Secret Window, the film version of the Stephen King novella, "Secret Window, Secret Garden". As King adaptations go, this one ranks in the middle of the pack, not nearly the best, but definitely not one of the worst. The problem here is that the whole plot hinges on a twist that has been done several times in films in recent years (Fight Club most notably), including a similarly delusional Coen Brothers film about writer's block that also starred John Turturro (Barton Fink -- probably the reason he was cast in this film). Although the story pre-dates many of the movies, there is a nice irony that the film deals with plagiarized ideas, as this film feels like it is lifted from other sources, while in reality, its real source came first.
Sadly, the predictability weighs in heavily in why Secret Window is a mediocre thriller, and the fact that it isn't particularly scary. In fact, it plays much more like a quirky black comedy (which it is), with another idiosyncratic performance by Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) that treats this nonsense with all of the seriousness it deserves -- none.
Depp stars as Mort Rainey, a best-selling author struggling with an impending divorce and a serious case of writer's block. While at his country home, he is visited by a strange and menacing man claiming to be John Shooter (Turturro, The Big Lebowski), who drove all the way from Mississippi to denounce Rainey's story, "Secret Window, Secret Garden" as plagiarized from his work. Shooter give Rainey three days to provide evidence that he was the original author of the story, but Mort blows him off as just another crazy coot. Things get serious -- deadly serious -- when bad things start happening that turns Rainey's life upside down, so the race is on to secure proof before he loses all that is dear to him.
One more bit of irony -- for a film that is all about getting its ending right, the one in Secret Window is all wrong. That's a shame since it had been an intriguing trip up until that point, but we knew the screw would turn eventually, and unfortunately this one is screwed up. It's not surprising, since this material is fairly weak to begin with, and only the colorful performances by Depp and Turturro spark any life into it, so when they are forced to change their personalities toward the final scenes, it all falls apart.
Secret Window is a flawed but interesting movie, and although I don't really recommend it as a good film, I also wouldn't call it was a waste of time either. Even with the flaws, it is always interesting, and iIf you like the stars, there will certainly be some appeal here, with the direction by Koepp keeping it a lively visual affair. The only real problem here is the main story itself, held together by the barest of plot developments and a surprise ending which probably won't be much of a secret to anyone.
©2004 Vince Leo