Years ago, when I read Stephen King's novella Secret Window, Secret
Garden, I thought it was a terrific story that never could be pulled off
on film. Not that it wasn't an interesting story idea with many
dramatic moments. It just that certain developments, particularly
towards the end of the story, didn't seem to lend themselves to the cinema.
(I won't tell you what they were. It would ruin the film's surprise,
but people who have read the book will know what I mean.)
since every word that King puts to paper eventually gets filmed, I guess it
was only a matter of time. The nice surprise is what a sense of
paranoid dread is spun by writer/director David Koepp (who wrote Panic Room
and Spider-Man, as well as directing his chilling script for
Stir of Echoes).
Johnny Depp plays Mort Rainey, a writer in turmoil. He is in the
middle of getting a divorce after finding his wife (Maria Bello) in a hotel
with another man (Timothy Hutton.) Mort allows her to keep the house
on Long Island and moves into their summer cabin in the lonely woods of
upper New York state. He is having a monumental bout of writer's
block, desperately staring at a blank computer screen waiting for
inspiration that never comes. Even the simplest tasks, like dressing
and washing his hair, making phone calls and signing the divorce papers,
seem like just too much trouble for him. He takes long
naps throughout the day so that he has a constant bedraggled and dazed look.
afternoon (or is it morning or evening? Time has ceased to make much
difference for Rainey) he is awakened from one of his naps by a mysterious
stranger. John Shooter is a stern-looking, old fashioned man with a
bowler hat and a perpetual scowl. He claims that Mort somehow stole
one of his stories and demands restitution. Mort refuses to accept the
worn manuscript Shooter proffers and insists that he has never heard
of the man or his story. However he finds the manuscript on his porch
and curiousity gets the best of him. It turns out that the story was
an almost dead match for a story Rainey wrote about a wife-killer called
course, since this is based on a King story, it isn't as easily disproved as
you'd expect. Rainey was drinking heavily at the time he wrote the
story. There was also apparently some similar past incident that
Rainey angrily brushes past when it is mentioned to him by his ex-wife and a
security consultant (Charles S. Dutton) he has used over the years.
Rainey can prove that he wrote the story before Shooter claims if he can
find a copy of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine that the story was
published in. However, things keep getting in the way of Rainey
getting the proof and Shooter becomes more and more foreboding. He
threatens Rainey's ex-wife, kills their dog and burns her house down.
Then dead bodies start turning up.
stuff only works as well as the cast, and in this respect, the movie is
first rate. In his first real role since his breakout in Pirates of
Caribbean (he had more of a supporting role in Once Upon A Time In
Mexico), Johnny Depp once again proves that he is the quirkiest leading
man in the movies. Mort Rainey is a wilderness of ticks and
grimaces and dazed incomprehension. A man who was never quite sane is
seen trying desperately to fight tide of rising dementia, and yet Depp
portrays him with a bit of humor and guile.
Turturro's character is much more one-note, a dispenser of Puritan justice,
but he is an effective villain. Bello does more intriguing work (like
her recent The Cooler and Auto Focus roles), despite the fact
that her character is really only there to apologize for betraying Rainey
and to worry about his state of mind. Timothy Hutton also has some
confrontations with Depp which crackle with tension. Charles S. Dutton
has some electric scenes, too, allowing a clear outside perspective
into the sinister little tug of wars going on.
the end, the story works better than I thought it would on celluloid.
However, the ending doesn't quite work visually, just like I originally
thought when I read the novella. Even though I think Koepp did tweak
King's original climax, (at least it is different than I remember the ending
being,) it doesn't necessarily make it work better. Secret Window is
a great set-up with a bit of a weak pay-off. Which, come to think of it,
describes all too many Stephen King movies.
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March