Novelist Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) is having a bad attack of writer's block, in the middle of painful divorce proceedings. Things get even worse when a black hatted and intense John Shooter (John Turturro) bangs on the door of his isolated lakeside hut, accusing Rainey of plagiarising his story and demanding satisfaction. Rainey insists his innocence but Shooter becomes more and more threatening. As Rainey tries to find a way out of the impasse, the body count begins.
Review by Louise Keller:
Every single note of Philip Glass's evocative score touches on an emotion, building curiosity, intrigue and tension into Johnny Depp's marvellous dishevelled writer, who is struggling to find inspiration. Secret Window refers to not only the hidden panes of glass behind the cabinet of the secluded cabin where Depp's Mort puts fingers to keyboard to create his fictional characters, but also to the window into his befuddled mind. We peer into his mind, his life and his soul, as reality and fantasy merge into one intense and terrifying whirlwind.
David Koepp's inspired screenplay (from Stephen King's novella) gives Depp all the tools he needs to create a haunting character, tormented by his impending divorce, and his insecurity to not only cope, but to produce profound and productive work.
Much of the joys of Secret Window are in watching Depp at work. He looks as tousled as a shaggy dog in his a shredded, stripey, dressing gown that looks as comfy as a pair of worn-out slippers. He naps and gazes at the almost empty packet of cigarettes in blatant denial. He sits and anguishes over the stale words on his computer screen: it's not until he decides the only way to be rid of bad writing is to hit the delete button, that he finds momentary relief. As the plot progresses, so does Depp's mannerisms, as he stretches his facial muscles in a gnarl-like twitch, in tandem with Mort's anxiety and dilemma. There is one fantastic cinematic moment towards the end of the film, when Depp's face is shown in tight close up under the brim of his hat, the whites of his eyes gleaming like snow on a jagged cliff's edge.
The incessant shrill ringing of the phone provides constant tension, and while this thriller is more chilling than terrifying, there are some startling moments, when shadows creep and our nerves are set on edge. John Turturro's sinister John Shooter from Mississippi adds to our disquiet - Turturro is a master at making the most innocuous sentence feel ominous.
The setting is delicious - from the idyllic solitude of the isolated writer's paradise den by the lake, to the incongruity of the laid-back small town, whose sheriff eases his arthritis by dabbling in tapestry. Maria Bello (The Cooler) effects just the right balance of emotional empathy and matter-of-factness from the broken marriage, while Timothy Hutton brings a frenzied circumference around his role of the other man. The skill of the script is on display as we are led where the writer wants us to go, taking one false lead after the next.
While the plot is in keen pursuit of a perfect ending, Secret Window stumbles a little as it approaches its conclusion: the climax detonates a little too loudly and excessively for maximum effect. This is a splendid yarn that gnaws as it stimulates, and haunts us with disquiet as it entertains.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The best part of Secret Window is everything right up to the twist at the end. This is where the writer's device is exposed and it's where the audience realises it has been fed red herrings, led up garden paths and generally hoodwinked by the storyteller. True, that's what psychological thrillers are meant to do. My only reservation is that the twist is a little bit too clever and that after the revelation our characters undergo subtle changes as if no longer constrained by the feints of the script.
But nothing can take away from the edgy direction and the top performances, the superb score and the excellent production design. Writer/director David Koepp (working from a Stephen King novella) creates a terrific mood as he establishes the character of Mort Rainey, a crumpled but sympathetic character whose painful divorce appears to be defeating him as much as his writer's block. Johnny Depp develops Mort with great finesse, adding layers with each grimace, each line of dialogue and each aside to his faithful dog.
John Turturro turns up the tension as he bangs the door down, full of restrained menace as an aggrieved writer from Mississippi, whose story he claims Rainey has stolen. And he is intent on getting satisfaction - or else.
As the story gains momentum, the lighter, comedic tone gives way to ugly drama and the danger implied by Shooter becomes all too immediate and real. Koepp handles the subtle shifting with great skill, all the while pushing us further into the unknown, until the denouement. It's a taut film, and with its ample cinematic accomplishments, provides psycho-thrills right up to the last frame - which is, happily, not a predictable fairy tale finish.
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SECRET WINDOW (M)
CAST: Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton, Charles S. Dutton
PRODUCER: Gavin Polone
DIRECTOR: David Koepp
SCRIPT: David Koepp (novel by Stephen King)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Fred Murphy
EDITOR: Jill Savitt
MUSIC: Philip Glass
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Howard Cummings
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 8, 2004