Secret Window review by Mike Long

Can a film have too much inertia? Secret Window seemed like a sure-fire smash given those involved with the film. Johnny Depp was red-hot coming off of the runaway success of Pirates of the Carribean. Hot-shot screenwriter David Koepp had proven that he had some chops behind the camera as well with the underrated Stir of Echoes. And anything with Stephen King's name attached to it usually gets attention. And while Secret Window is a serviceable thriller, it never quite reaches the classic status that the people involved promise.

Depp stars in Secret Window as writer Mort Rainey, a man who is not having a very good year. Six months ago, he discovered that his wife Amy (Maria Bello) was having an affair with Ted (Timothy Hutton). Since that time, Mort has been holed-op in his upstate New York cabin attempting to write a new book, but that's not going very well either, as he's only managed to write one paragraph. Truth be told, Mort spends most of his time shuffling around the cabin, wearing a ragged robe, and napping on the sofa. One day, his nap is interrupted by a knock at the door. Upon opening the door, Mort is met by a stern man named John Shooter (John Turturro). Shooter claims that Mort stole his idea for a story and presents Mort with a manuscript to prove his claim. Haven dealt with this kind of thing before, Mort blows off this encounter and attempts to resume his sluggish life. But Shooter isn't a man to be toyed with and he soon begins terrorizing Mort and threatening violence is Mort doesn't produce some sort of retribution for the alleged plagiarism. Mort contacts security expert Ken Karsch (Charles S. Dutton) for help, but refuses any assistance from Amy, who is urging Mort to finalize their divorce. As Shooters threats become more brutal, Mort begins to crack under the pressure and realizes that the situation may be more serious than hed ever imagined.

I read the Stephen King short story on which this film is based (Secret Window, Secret Garden) when it was first published in 1990, but I dont really remember any details from it. The film version is quite similar. The main problem with Secret Window is that the story is simply too pedestrian and predictable, especially in light of recent films which sported similar premises. Some may be surprised by the shock ending, but it will be quite obvious to most. Also, while we learn a lot about Mort and the other characters, everyone still comes across as somewhat vacuous and underwritten. There is some suspense as Shooter harasses Mort, but we often don't know enough about what's going on to truly feel much tension.

The good news is that the film is still very watchable and entertaining thanks to the talent involved. If youve ever wondered if it would be interesting to watch Johnny Depp just sit around in a bath-robe, the answer is, yes. Depp brings the same sort of manic energy to this role which he infused Jack Sparrow with in Pirates of the Carribean, but he takes it in a totally different direction. Mort Rainey is the polar opposite of a man of action, preferring to sit idly by while the world moves on. Yet, Mort is so eccentric that Depp makes him very interesting to watch. Credit must also go to writer/director David Koepp, who has done two things very well in the film. One, he has given the film a very nice visual style and there are some shots during the finale which bring very obvious metaphors to life. Secondly, hes done a nice job of recreating Stephen Kings dialogue and literary style on the big screen, most notably in the asides which Mort whispers to himself, something which characters in Kings works do constantly. At 96 minutes, the movie moves along at a nice pace, and is never boring. Also, kudos for casting Timothy Hutton, star of Kings The Dark Half. (Those who are familiar with both stories will understand why his presence is so appropriate.) Like Mort Rainey himself, Secret Window is a confused film. Its entertaining and certainly worth a rental, but once youve seen it and experienced the twist ending, youll probably never want to see it again.

Secret Window snoozes its way onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks fantastic, which isnt all that surprising, as the film played in theaters just this past March. The image is very sharp and clear, showing essentially no grain and no defects from the source material. Artifacting and edge-enhancement issues are kept to a minimum. The colors are very good, and the flesh-tone look realistic. The landscape shots have a great deal of depth. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which is equally impressive. The dialogue and sound effects are always sharp and clear. The sound design in the film is quite lively, and things really get good during the last 1/3 of the film when the surround sound speakers are filled with sounds and the subwoofer is quite active.

The DVD is loaded with several extras. We start with an audio commentary from writer/director David Koepp. Koepp speaks at length throughout the film, and does a fine job of combining technical details (such as how films were shot), details of the story, and comments on the acting. (Some of his comments will be repeated in "A Look Through It".) The DVD contains three featurettes, which can all be viewed together with the Play All feature. From Book to Film is a misleading title, as this 19-minute segment only touches on Kings short story. Instead we get a somewhat interesting making-of in which Depp, Koepp, Hutton, Dutton, Turturro, and Bello comment on the story and the production. This is accompanied by some behind-the-scenes footage. Next up is A Look Through It (29 minutes), which is a very in-depth chat with Koepp as he walks us through several key scenes in Secret Window and discusses how they were shot, as well as touching on the overall tone of the film. Finally, Secrets Revealed (14 minutes) examines how Koepp decided to unveil the films surprise ending. The DVD offers 4 deleted scenes, 2 of which can be viewed with commentary from Koepp. All 4 scenes are brief and wouldnt have added much to the film. The extras are rounded out by animatics for 4 scenes, as well as the trailer for Secret Window, which has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is 16 x 9.


6 out of 10 Jackasses

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