Secret Window
Grade: B-
Year: 2004
Director: David Koepp
Writers: Stephen King (novel) & David Koepp
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Rated: PG-13
By Scott Spicciati

Since early September of last year, around the time of his last film , "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" I have been unkind to Johnny Depp, whose ridiculous anti-American statements have not been taken well by true patriots of this country including myself. With that said, I still cannot deny the fact that Depp is one of the most fascinating actors working in Hollywood today. While I may never care to meet him personally or give a damn about his political statements, his films are always worth looking forward to.

Even in "Secret Window," a Stephen King branded film that isn't much of a thriller, Depp has somehow been able to take a routine character and make him enthralling. Depp plays Mort Rainey, a novelist whose suffering from a case of writer's block. He lives alone in a secluded lakeside cabin; perfect feeding ground for a Stephen King story.

What is it about Stephen King that's so appealing to me? Not sure. While you can't doubt his classics, I've been known to like some of his critically-reviled film adaptations, as recently as last year's "Dreamcatcher."

The story of "Secret Window" isn't as wild as some of King's other works of fiction, but instead something that could possibly happen in the real word if it hasn't already. Something like this wouldn't get any more attention than the local news, and that fact alone makes for a pretty scary story.

After catching his wife Amy (Maria Bello) in bed with another man Ted (Timothy Hutton) in a motel room on a cold and chilly night, it's been downhill slide for Mort. Amy is patiently waiting for Mort to sign the divorce papers, but something has been keeping him from doing it. Maybe because he knows every time he goes back to his old town he will have to see Ted.

Sleeping on the couch like a bear in hibernation, Mort is rudely interrupted one morning by a man at his door. He is tall but doesn't look threatening, speaks with a thick Mississippi accent, and wears an Amish-looking wide-brimmed black hat. When Mort answers the door, the man charges, "You stole my story." He introduces himself as John Shooter (John Turturro), a writer who claims Mort stole a story that was published in an anthology titled "Everybody Drops the Dime" under the title, "Secret Window."

Of course Mort is dubious and refuses to listen to John anymore. But when he closes the door, he hears Shooter place a manuscript on the porch, that, sure enough, is word-for-word what Mort had written. It's about a man who, like his true self, has been betrayed by his wife. He murders and buries her in the garden that can be seen through the secret window.

Mort knows he did not steal the story and during his second confrontation with Shooter, he tells him that he wrote his story back in 1994, three years before Shooter's manuscript. Shooter doesn't believe him, but Mort says he has an old copy of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine to prove it. Shooter gives him three days to come up with the proof, otherwise bad things will happen.

And bad things do happen, so he hires ex-cop Ken (Charles S. Dutton) to investigate and be his personal watchman when the local arthritic sheriff (Len Cariou) doesn't satisfy his fears. (He seems to be more interested in knitting than policing.) At first Ken doesn't see Shooter as a big threat until his actions become more severe and possibly life threatening to Mort. Just how crazy is the seemingly harmless man?

"Secret Window" is the fifth film directed by David Koepp, the man responsible for the excellent horror film, "Stir of Echoes" which he also wrote the screenplay from Richard Matheson's novel. He's good at putting novels to screenplays, which is what he did here from Stephen King's novella, "Secret Window, Secret Garden." But this time he's limited, whereas he was limitless with "Stir of Echoes," a much more interesting story. He also contributed to "Jurassic Park" and both "Spiderman" films. I was not a big fan of his solo project, "Panic Room."

But he does what he can with "Secret Window." He wisely allows Depp to runaway with his own character, one that could not have been this interesting had it been played by anyone else. Everything from his little mannerisms to the times he talks to himself is thoroughly enjoyed.

Advanced disciples of film-going will possibly figure out the big twist as early as the halfway point of this 97-minute thriller, while others will be caught off guard. I can think of other films that have the same twist, but mentioning the titles alone would give it all away. It's that simple, but effective if it catches you by surprise.

The ending is quite eventful; certain important characters die quickly and the window is left slightly open for a satisfying open-twist ending that requires no more attention than what it gets.

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Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati