Movie Review – Secret Window (2004)
By Nathan Peterson
Starring: Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello
Secret Window follows Mort Rainey (Depp), an author who goes to stay in his country house following a break up from his wife (Bello). Whilst in retreat, he is confronted by John Shooter (Turturro), an intense stranger who accuses Mort of stealing his story. A battle of wits unfolds, as Shooter continuously increases the pressure on Rainey, who is not only trying to survive but also dealing with the fallout from his break-up and the ongoing divorce.
When reviewing a film, you have to try to be as impartial as possible. It’s not always easy, especially when you watch a film that you had no interest in, adapted from a story by Stephen King whose books are usually butchered on-screen, with a lead actor who can go from naturally charismatic to over-the-top acting in an instant, and a supporting actor that, other than his small role in The Big Lebowski, makes me want to claw my own face every second I see him in a film……
Phew! Now all the negativity is out, I can get down to the honest and fair film review you all expect of me.
Awful. Terrible. Unwatchable. Waste of time. Call it what you will, but this is honestly one of the worst films I have seen in quite some time. The worst part is, I don’t quite know where to direct my criticism!
Should it be Depp? Whilst I enjoy watching him when he is in full Cap’n Jack Sparrow mode, outside of the Pirate movies, I am not sure how I feel about him as an actor. Secret Window is no exception and whilst there are brief moments of decent acting, the rest of the time it felt amateurish. Also, following his recent exploits aboard the Black Pearl, I find it hard to take him seriously when he speaks in an American accent! I like Depp overall, but on-screen I just feel that maybe he isn’t as talented as we would all like to believe.
Turturro then? As I have commented above, the guy’s acting is like running fingernails over a chalkboard. It just get’s my hackles up, and I hate when I am forced to watch his awkward performances on-screen. As I am writing this, I am reminded that he was also in O Brother, Where Art Thou? which, along with The Big Lebowski, is probably the only other film that he doesn’t irritate me in. Once again, in Secret Window, his portrayal of an angered writer is just completely over the top and so unnecessarily harsh that you just don’t take him seriously, especially when everyone else around Depp seems nonplus about finding this guy.
The rest of the supporting cast? Actually, on the whole they do an acceptable job. Maria Bello’s character was, oddly enough, the most likeable person in the whole film, and given she played the part of Depp’s wife who cheated on him, makes it even the more surprising. Timothy Hutton as her new boyfriend, and Charles S Dutton as the private detective hired to find Shooter also do ok, although at times the lines that have been written for them is so bad that nobody could deliver them perfectly.
Maybe I should blame King, after all this is his story? Well, as complicated a mess as this film was, it is difficult for me to place too much of the fault at his doorstep. Having not read the original source material, I can’t comment how closely the film follows it, however given that most of the films adapted from his books are below average, ignoring Shawshank Redemption of course, someone in Hollywood really needs to take a look at the situation and realise that it just doesn’t work!
Having read a fair few of King’s books, I do feel though that whilst I respect him for being a capable and prolific writer, the usually excellent stories that he starts with often end up as something much less interesting. In fact, I doubt he can finish a sandwich, much less a story! My final gripe about King though is his incessant need for every book and novella to include an author. Ok we get it, you write books, no need to put a writer in every god-damn tale!
So finally we have to look at the directors seat, and find David Koepp sitting there. For anyone who doesn’t know, Koepp’s resume includes the not-so stellar Ghost Town and Stir of Echoes, which you may agree are hardly worth boasting about. As I have said before, I cannot comment as to how closely Koepp tried to follow the story, however the sub-plots of Depp’s smoking habit and the vivid but short dream sequences seemed completely unnecessary plot devices that led nowhere. Where these necessary for the overall story? Not that I could tell. Were they distracting and confusing? Absolutely.
Through Koepp’s substandard direction (oh and writing as he did the screenplay after all), we end up with a cast that have no real chemistry, starring in a muddled mess of a movie, where the actions of each character is questionable (for example, when you are being physically threatened by an imposing person, why continue to stay in a cabin in the middle of nowhere?), the plot twist is sign-posted a mile away and the ending is so weirdly out of keeping with anything that happened in the last 90 minutes it’s like it was a different director.
For me, there was literally only one scene of any real worth, and that occurred during the finale. Pity it was also so obviously ripped from the far-superior Jack Nicholson version of The Shining, and therefore lacked any originality.
I watch these films so you don’t have to. You’re welcome. If you at any point decide you want to see if I am wrong, please don’t. For a more enjoyable, character driven and tense 90 minutes, just look through your own window!
Rating: 1 out of 5