May 23, 2005
Somewhere over the last eighteen months Johnny Depp has risen from kooky character actor to a bone fide national treasure, even securing himself a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Pirates Of The Caribbean. His follow up to that film, Secret Window, reaffirms his screen presence yet has a story so predictable as to be insulting. With Depp in the lead the film is average, so we can only imagine how awful it would be without him.
The premise sounds appealing: based on a Stephen King short story about a novelist named Mort Rainy, Secret Window poses the question ‘What if a complete stranger turned up on your doostep claiming you stole their story?’ And what if he was a bit kaka? With Mission Impossible/Jurassic Park writer turned director David Koepp (pronounced ‘Kepp’) at the helm and Mr Can Do No Wrong Johnny Depp on board, how could this fail?
Well in essence it doesn’t. It is a well-crafted, stylishly shot thriller that is let down by an ending that is as predictable as Russell Crowe’s next tabloid punch-up. Essentially a cabin fever story involving a handful of characters, we spend most of our time with Mort as he struggles with writer’s block and the aftermath of a messy marriage break-up in his cosy little backwater home. His ex-wife Amy has shacked up with lover Ted and a tenuous love triangle flutters at the edge of their relationship (Mort wants her back, but paradoxically could never trust her again). To make matters worse, a hick named John Shooter arrives and challenges Mort’s ownership of an old short story called Secret Window. Who wrote it first? And just how far will Shooter go to persuade Mort that he’s guilty of plagiarism?
As the film progresses Shooter gets more impatient and people end up meeting a sticky end. Mort decides to investigate for himself and even hires a private detective to keep an eye on his house. But when Shooter involves Amy it starts Mort wondering if Ted could behind everything…
Depp’s one-man show keeps us interested even when he’s required to stare blankly at a computer screen. Likewise director Koepp throws in some clever camera shots that move through houses and even through mirrors, but you can’t help but feel this is a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes. King’s similarly themed The Dark Half (also starring Hutton) didn’t succeed with George Romero calling the shots, so why should this? Dig deeper and you start to see a pattern to Koepp’s work; he loves stories where characters slowly go mad at home (Stir Of Echoes) and have extraordinary events break into their ordinary lives (The Trigger Effect). Much like Stephen King’s work, then. But despite their best efforts, at the end of the day you feel you’re watching a movie you’ve seen many times before, except this time it has just a little more panache than it deserves.
David Koepp’s commentary is informative and interesting, explaining how things like the clever opening shot were created, and why he was drawn to the material. The ‘From Book To Film’ featurette explains the writing process, ‘A Look Through It’ (the secret window of the title) covers the actual shooting and ‘Secrets Revealed’ deconstructs the special effects. Taken on their own, the featurettes are nicely done but if you’ve listened to the commentary then a good 80% of it has been covered already and you’re hearing the same stories again. That said, the deleted scenes offer some more improvising from Depp at the coffee shop and an alternate, even darker ending that Koepp rejected because it was too ‘Tales From The Crypt’.
Good. Not great.