© 2004 Ray Wong
Adapted from Stephen King’s novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” SECRET WINDOW is a taut, eerie mood piece that is one of the better “Stephen King” movies. After the utter disappointment that was DREAMCATCHER, writer David Koepp (PANIC ROOM, SPIDERMAN) proves to be a decent director as well.
Mort Rainey (Depp) is a famous mystery writer who is going through a messy divorce with his wife Amy (Bello, THE COOLER). While he isolates himself in his remote cabin, he is depressed and suffers a major writer’s block. He also blames his failed marriage on his wife and her infidelity with Ted (Hutton, SUNSHINE STATE). One day, a stranger named John Shooter (Turturro, ANGER MANAGEMENT) shows up at Mort’s door, accusing Mort for plagiarizing his story, “Secret Window.” Mort rebuffs him. Soon Shooter starts to stalk and threaten Mort, and strange things happen. Mort tries to alert the town sheriff (Cariou, ABOUT SCHMIDT) and his private investigator (Dutton, AGAINST THE ROPES) as well as Amy and Ted. Stranger things happen, which culminate in the final plot twists.
Is SECRET WINDOW nail-biting? You bet, but not because the script is exceptionally clever or suspenseful or the ending is that shocking (despite the movie’s tagline: “the best part of a story is the ending.”). As a matter of fact, the filmmakers have laid down so much groundwork that an attentive audience would have guessed the “revelation” before it arrives, even though the un-Hollywood ending is indeed twisted in a very creepy way. At times you wonder why they spend so much time with Amy and Ted and the divorce that seem to have not much to do with John Shooter. Why does Shooter do what he does? And why is Mort running around, tending to other things when there is a psychopath in his backyard? Then you realize: there IS a point. And then there is Amy and Ted, who act like nothing really matters after their house burns down. You have to wonder: who are these people? By far, I think, the writing is the weakest link in the film. Mercifully, the filmmakers have crafted an entertaining film despite the script’s shortcoming.
What really make the film intense and suspenseful are the performances. Depp is moody, grumpy and benign enough for you to genuinely root for his character, and that sympathy serves the film extremely well. He gives one of his most nuanced performances since EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Turturro is brilliant as the sinister Shooter, oozing evil and menace, a great juxtaposition to Rainey’s relatively mild if erratic demeanor. Bello is convincing as the oblivious Amy even though we really do not know what makes Amy tick. She is simply there to draw our sympathy. Hutton has always been a good actor, and he proves his skills as Amy’s short-tempered but concerned lover. The rest of the cast is solid, albeit really minor. The cinematography (Fred Murphy, OCTOBER SKY) is gorgeous, showing the tranquil beauty of upstate New York as well as the lurking eeriness of what lies beneath. Koepp uses a lot of the standard tricks to spook the audience (strange angles, sweeping camera movement, extremely close-ups, mirrors, etc.) and the effects are at times superb and at others over the top. Philip Glass’ score adds to the atmosphere of the film, and is not as intrusive as that in THE HOURS. Overall, SECRET WINDOW is a tense, well-acted psychological thriller that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats most of the time. “The best part of a story is the ending.” Unfortunately, despite all of the elements, the ending somehow fizzles, leaving the more astute audience to utter: “Is that it?”
Stars: Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton, Charles S. Dutton, Len Cariou
Director: David Koepp
Writers: Stephen King, David Koepp
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, gore, profanity
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.5 out of 10