of writing can be long, arduous, and terribly solitary. (Witness
the lateness of this very review.) To work your way through
whatever blocks you, holing up in a remote area has its pros
and cons, especially if you're actually a character in a movie.
For however successful it may be, writing is an internal process.
At least until a psychopath shows up on your cabin doorstep
claiming that you stole one of his stories for your very own.
Window, it takes screenwriter/director David Koepp a while
to guide star Johnny Depp to that moment of confrontation.
Few filmmakers could make the internal writer's struggle interesting
in the meantime, but with a star like Depp, the job is easier
than it should be. Even though Depp's Mort Rainey sleeps a
lot to stave off frustration and perhaps simmering rage, the
actor somehow makes it compelling.
pretty closely from a Stephen King novella, Koepp painstakingly
delineates all the distractions Rainey finds for himself.
The writer has a more difficult block than usual, as he's
also trying to work through his emotions at having found his
wife, Amy (the excellent Maria Bello), in bed with another
man (Timothy Hutton). As a man, Rainey cannot move forward
until he has buried his past.
John Shooter (John Turturro) appears with his accusation,
it's like picking at a hardly healed scab for Rainey. Somewhere
in his past career, he had plagiarized a story, and
though we never get the details, it's clear that this was
part of what poisoned his relationship with his wife. This
time, however, he should be able to prove his innocence, but
Shooter has a way of disrupting his focus.
has played similar tunes before about the relationship between
a writer and his craft. (One such variation, The Dark Half,
even starred Hutton.) To his credit, Koepp and his team do
a decent job of giving King's mind games visual life without
being too flashy. It's tough to do with any subtlety, as last
year's Dreamcatcher bears witness. But here, the slow
erosion of a man's mind works on us almost unconsciously,
as befits a director who likes to work in low keys.
not to say that Secret Window is without suspense.
Once it gets going, it never lets go of its high pitch, even
when quiet scenes relegate the tension to the background.
Koepp keeps one daring element of King's story for the movie
- Shooter's first victim is a dog. And if a movie is willing
to kill a dog right off the bat (one with cataracts, no less),
you know that it is willing to do anything.
its star. Depp deserves the term "best actor of his generation,"
probably moreso because he eschews it. Few actors dedicate
themselves to the "bed head" so aggressively; Depp sports
an unruly mane that even when combed looks unkempt. But he
is not an actor that lets a look do the work for him. Rainey
clearly comes from deep inside.
occasionally charming, Rainey is more than a little pathetic
and possibly impotent. The camera rarely leaves the character,
nor does Depp. In scenes when he talks to Amy, you can see
the hope that her new relationship isn't working out, and
the bit of self-loathing that he has that hope.
has an underutilized foil in Turturro. Borrowing a bit from
Robert DeNiro's Max Cady, Turturro gives Shooter a coiled
sense of menace that never really gets to lash out. Every
scene he is in has an extra shot of creepiness, but it does
not quite reach the pay off most audiences would want.
considering that Shooter wants to achieve "the perfect ending"
to his story, the movie sort of fails to achieve it. It ends
up rather poetic and daring, perhaps, after a shocking climax,
but it doesn't really add up. However, it will be memorable,
and maybe that's all that really matters.
not just become huge in the eyes of Hollywood, Secret Window
probably would not be getting the push that it is. This is
no blockbuster; like Koepp's earlier work, Stir of Echoes,
this is a more introspective thriller that may actually give
the audience something to think about. So be warned. But you
will be rewarded.