A stumped writer with a troubled personal life, an isolated house on a lakefront, a violent figure bent on revenge, and a creepy twist at the end. Formulaic? A little bit. But still fairly entertaining.
This is the essential story behind “Secret Window,” David Koepp’s psychological thriller starring Johnny Depp and John Turturro. After finding his wife in bed with another man, Mort Rainey (Depp) is living alone in a house on a lake somewhere near New York City when a Mississippi dairy farmer, John Shooter (Turturro), shows up. He accuses Rainey of stealing his story, and the movie then follows Rainey as he tries to get rid of Shooter by proving that he wrote the story first. Meanwhile Shooter gets increasingly violent in his quest, trying to get Rainey to admit to plagiarism and fix Shooter’s ending. The twist finally comes as Shooter confronts Rainey for the last time.
Of the movie’s strong points, first and foremost is the acting, specifically that of Johnny Depp. Despite the fact that in many scenes all we see is him standing — or sitting, or lying — around by himself, he still manages to be engrossing. Depp portrays troubled writer Rainey well, showing us frustration at his inability to cope with writer’s block and his soon-to-be ex-wife’s new boyfriend, fear at the relentless advances of Shooter and, of course, the easy flair and humor that Depp manages to bring into every character he portrays, even when he’s being pursued by a madman. Turturro is also his usual strong self, pulling off psychotic hick Shooter effortlessly. Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton and Charles S. Dutton all provide strong performances as Rainey’s wife, her new boyfriend and the enforcer Rainey hires to deal with Shooter, respectively.
In a genre where the right music is a big factor in making the film all the more suspenseful, Philip Glass’ score, replete with eerie string compositions, adds perfectly to the plot’s inherent suspense. The cinematography is also excellent, with the views of the lake and surrounding wilderness aptly adding to the feeling that Rainey is all alone, just him and his stalker.
Then there’s the twist. While the surprise is nothing totally new, you probably won’t see it coming. And Koepp utilizes a technique often looked down upon in filmmaking — voiceover — very creatively to initiate the audience’s recognition that something is amiss.
Unfortunately, the twist is both the film’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. It comes very late in the movie, and while the preceding hour and a half is interesting, you may find yourself becoming slightly impatient. The major problem, however, is what happens when you leave the movie. In very good psychological thrillers, reflecting on what preceded the twist should give you a greater appreciation for the sudden surprise, as you realize that you had no idea what was coming and that the hints were both subtle and clever (for example, think about “The Sixth Sense” or “The Usual Suspects.”) Reflecting on “Secret Window” will probably only make you mad at yourself for not having seen what was coming — the hints weren’t subtle, or particularly clever.
Also, the movie adheres to its thriller formula a little bit too much. You’ve probably seen pieces of this movie in several other films — what you get here is nothing new. The only really original part of the plot itself may be the ending. And while the ending is original, it gets a little overly weird in its creepiness.
Overall, Secret Window is nothing special, but Depp delivers, and the movie is entertaining, especially if you haven’t seen many psychological thrillers.
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