Directed by David Koepp
Screenplay by David
Koepp, based on the novella by
Produced by Gavin Polone
Starring Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello,
Timothy Hutton, Charles Dutton, Len Cariou and Gillian
(out of four)
I can’t help but think that “Secret
Window” would be a better film if it were played
solely for comedy. This isn’t meant to play
the “so bad it’s funny” card. The
film is genuinely amusing enough to clear fear from
the mind when it’s supposed to be building.
If the whole film were just a little more high-strung
and out there, it could have been a great screwball
comedy with a classic Johnny Depp performance. Looking
at it as an attempt to create anxiety, it fails.
It would have succeeded as a comedy about anxiety.
Depp plays an emotionally scarred writer named Mort
who’s pissed off at everybody—not just
his ex-wife and her new lover, but his saintly cleaning
woman as well. When he’s not passed out on
the couch, he writes bad, quickly deleted paragraphs
in the seclusion of the cabin he’s living in
since his ex-wife took his house. He’s terribly
inconvenienced when the phone rings or the cleaning
lady puts the pillows on the couch. Mort is such
a complete creation that Depp’s presence throughout
the film almost makes it worthwhile.
Depp isn’t alone in making positive contributions.
Writer/director David Koepp made the film, and his
previous credits include “Stir of Echoes,” a
film unfortunately similar to “The Sixth Sense” that
came out at the same time, and the screenplay for
David Fincher’s “Panic Room,” which
cleverly avoided many thriller clichés. Koepp
displays great skill and some of the same show-offish
long tracking shots Fincher uses, but fails to create
suspense this time around. The most engaging scene
is the opening shot, which uses a fixed shot of Depp
through his windshield on a rainy night as an inner
voice tells him to leave. He pulls his car out, then
backs it up again as the camera moves out to reveal
that Mort is at a motel where his wife is cheating
Mort’s conversation with his inner voice reach
an amusing conclusion during the film’s obvious
third act, whose content reflects a plot device twist
that is as common as a strong Johnny Depp performance.
This final act and the incessant repetitiveness of
Mort’s encounters with a mysterious visitor
just barely prevent the film’s impressive efforts
from earning it a recommendation.
The visitor, named John Shooter (John Turturro),
knocks on the door to claim that Mort stole his story.
He leaves a manuscript behind, and Mort eventually
looks at it and realizes that it’s a word-for-word
copy of one of his short stories. John’s ex-wife
Amy (Maria Bello) makes some vague references to
a story Mort did somehow plagiarize and settle out
of court, but in this case Shooter claims he wrote
the story three years after Mort published his. He
says he’ll go away if Mort gets the magazine
it first published in and shows it to him. Of course,
Mort takes his time getting it from Amy’s house
while Shooter keeps popping up out of nowhere to
say hello and maybe kill a dog.
The most frightening moment in the film occurs when
Mort discovers his butchered dog, not because we
don’t know what is behind the white cover (it’s
quite obvious), but because Philip Glass’ score
features a loud, booming hit that would scare anyone
within 50 feet of the theater.
The actual conversations with the dog killer are
never creepy. As the sinister man from Mississippi,
John Turturro seems to be playing the same man (from
the same Southern state) as his character in “O
Brother, Where Art Thou?” Things are always
more tense when he’s not around and Mort is
looking for him. Depp creates the best suspense when
he’s alone, mumbling to himself and attacking
the bathroom, only to realize his actions are irrational.
Once Shooter arrives, it’s the same old talk
about justice and settling scores while Mort shows
And there’s no doubt that Mort is scared and
confused. The only problem: We’re just amused.