22 July 2004 | MovieAddict2016
Nothing special but made enjoyable by a fun(ny) performance by Depp and capable direction
"Secret Window" is another one of those eerie thrillers where danger lurks within the shadows. We can almost feel it, and so can the hero, as he walks through his house, armed with a weapon, ready to defend himself at all costs. He hears a noise from somewhere behind him, spins around, and suddenly realizes it was just his imagination. He sighs, puts down the weapon, turns around, and BOO! There's the bad guy, who has somehow managed to enter the locked home and avoid being detected. What if, I wonder, one of these times, the bad guy was seen as he entered? What if the Fisherman from "I Know What You Did Last Summer" had been spotted, and confronted, by one of the teenagers? What if Norman Bates' "Mother" had been exposed from the start? Then there presumably would be no movie, of course.
Although we know where "Secret Window" is headed quite early on, David Koepp (writer of "Panic Room" and director of the well-made "Stir of Echoes") manages to sustain the audience's interest through a series of suspenseful camera shots. Some are inventive, while others are merely fun to watch because we can guess where Koepp got his inspiration.
Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) is a successful author who lives up north with his beloved dog and a laptop. He apparently abandons his social life, never gets a haircut, and wears quite silly-looking glasses. He has a sarcastic personality and presumably does not get along very well with the local residents, who generally keep to themselves anyway.
Mort's life is changed forever when a strange man named John Shooter (John Turturro) shows up at his doorstep claiming that Mort has "stolen" his story. Mort is handed a dirty manuscript. Within the pages are passages literally identical to those from Mort's own book, "Secret Window," published in 1994, three years before John claims he wrote his. "Secret Window," the novel, is about a man whose wife cheats on him. Fueled by rage, the fictional character murders his own wife and buries her in the "secret garden" located outside of the "secret window" of their home.
It is said that art imitates life, and through a series of flashbacks we learn that Mort's novel bears an eerie similarity to his own problems -- "six months ago" his wife (Maria Bello) had an affair with Ted (Timothy Hutton). Mort assumes that John Shooter has some sort of connection to his past, and hires a detective (Charles S. Dutton) to find the mysterious man, who always seems to appear out of nowhere when Mort is alone.
Depp's performance is the highlight of the film -- if Depp is imitating Stephen King (the author of the short story "Secret Window" is based on), he succeeds. Barely recognizable hidden underneath a layer of geeky clothing and a generally disheveled appearance, Depp once again proves that he can tackle any sort of role as an actor -- from a scared teenager who has to stay up ("A Nightmare on Elm Street") to a Hunter S. Thompson lookalike ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas").
Koepp, who wrote the screenplay for the film, realizes that the key to the story is Depp's performance wisely allows his primary actor to let loose. Meanwhile the co-stars all deliver fine, convincing performances and although the grand finale is a bit of a let-down, and terribly predictable, the movie's style is interesting. "Secret Window" is better than most in its genre, although by no means is it a masterpiece of any sort. Just an enjoyable Friday/Saturday night matinée, and worthy of recommendation if you're not looking for anything special.
I could criticize the "twist" of the movie and say that it has become one of the most overused solutions to Hollywood film thriller/mysteries of the past decade, but I won't spoil it, and let you decide for yourself whether it does the story justice.