March 18, 2004

Secret Window

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Movies based on Stephen King books are often a toss up. Some adaptations of King are great, scary, and moving works of cinema like The Shawshank Redemption, The Shining, and Misery. However, for every one of these successful flicks, there are nauseatingly bad movies like Maximum Overdrive, Pet Sematary 2, and Silver Bullet. In reality, the deciding factor on whether a Stephen King book will make a good movie lies in the ability of the filmmaker. Fortunately, in the hands of director/screenwriter David Koepp, King’s novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden” is transformed into this year’s best thriller yet, Secret Window.

The plot of Secret Window is very similar to many other Stephen King movies. The main character is author Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), who, due to marital problems, finds himself isolated in the wilderness trying to get over a bad case of writer’s block. Sound familiar Jack Torrence? Rainey spends most of his time napping, wondering why his wife cheated on him, and attempting to write. This rather slow schedule is interrupted when a stranger with the name of Shooter (John Turturro) knocks on his door and insists that Mort plagiarized one of his stories. Mort is also under pressure from his wife to sign the divorce papers to end their marriage. A great thrill ride ensues as Mort is forced to confront Shooter and many other dark secrets from his past.

The anchor of this film is Johnny Depp’s acting ability. Depp’s character in Secret Window, Mort Rainey, is almost the anti-Captain Jack. Instead of the flamboyant buccaneer from Pirates of the Caribbean, Depp’s Mort is an introverted, quiet momma’s boy who would probably kill himself if he ever tried to handle a sword. However, just like in Pirates of the Caribbean, the film depends on Depp’s talented versatility. Very few actors could pull of Depp’s quirky, yet subdued portrayal of the film’s main character.

Not to be overlooked is Depp’s co-star John Turturro. Many may recognize Turturro for his portrayal of “The Jesus” in The Big Lebowski. Once again, Turturro exhibits talent in the role of the villain, Shooter. It’s difficult to play a character whose sole purpose in the film is to personify evil. That role is even more challenging when your character dresses like an Amish bible salesman and talks in a Southern drawl. Against all odds, Turturro creates a character that is just as scary as he is weird.

While most of the hype revolving around Secret Window is directed towards Depp’s acting, Koepp deserves much of the credit for this film. Koepp is well known for his action-packed screenplays for Jurassic Park and Mission Impossible. Secret Window is only Koepp’s third time sitting in the director’s seat. Still, he shows considerable skill in his camera work. One example of Koepp’s originality is the film’s interesting opening scene. The camera skims across the water of a small lake to Mort Rainey’s cabin. Then, Koepp pans the interior of the cabin, focusing on a large mirror that shows in its reflection Mort, napping. However, instead of turning the camera around to focus on Mort, Koepp actually enters the mirror itself, producing an interesting visual effect.

Secret Window’s “scariness” is not delivered by violence like in many other King adaptations. Instead, this film has a much more Hitchcockian feel and provides the fright factor through suspense and plot twists. The only downside to the film is the fact that many aspects of its plot have been used before in other mystery and horror films. Still, Koepp, Turturro, and Depp provide a great roller coaster ride of suspense which is worth seeing.

Archived article by Mark Rice