"Secret Window Secret Garden" originally appeared in the novella collection "Four Past Midnight". Sandwiched in between the appealingly weird “The Langoliers”, the fucking bizarre "The Library Policeman" and the underrated, surreally horrific "Sun Dog", Secret Window is the kind of story that gets overshadowed in its own book.
Modest might be the best word for it. David Koepp wisely plays to that modesty. Instead of trying to artificially pump the book up, he creates a stealth bomb of a movie. It’s a creepy, character based, seventies throwback style of filmmaking. It may not be in a hurry to get any damn where, it definitely walks that fine line between “slow burn” and slow. But it is surprisingly, almost shockingly effective filmmaking. It’ll creep up on you. If given half a chance.
Secret Window follows Mort Rainey, a novelist reeling in the wake of his wife’s affair and devastated by the messy divorce. Rainey is wallowing in the aftermath, rummaging about the house in a dirty bathrobe, taking long naps, playing with his dog, and half heartedly playing around with the key board. Indeed the movie seems to be threatening to turn into The Bryce Wilson Story, before John Turturro, as an epoch of cracker menace shows up and accuses Depp of stealing an old story. And then goes around doing anti social things like jamming a screwdriver through people's heads.
Much of the movie is basically a one man show starring Johnny Depp (not an unappealing proposition). It’s one of Depp’s last, crucial, pre Jack Sparrow performances (Even though it was released after Pirates it, like Once Upon A Time In Mexico, was shot before). I’d argue that the period between this and Sleepy Hollow is one of the most interesting to watch Depp in. Even if contradictorily it doesn’t have any of best performances in it. It’s in that five year period that he went from “Johnny Depp, chameleon like character actor” to, “Johnny Depp… FUCKING JOHNNY DEPP!” Though by the end of the film he is manifesting a disappointing amount of the “bug eyed quizzical stare” that has become his equivalent of “HOO HAH!”. Most of the performance is a reminder of what a vital actor he was before he remanded himself to caricature (not that the caricature isn’t a whole lot of fun.
But he’s matched ably, particularly by Turturro who you can tell relishes the chance to star in a movie that utilizes his talents to a fuller extent then “target for Robo-Pee”. He and Depp play wonderfully off of each other. Particularly smart is Turturro’s decision to play up Shooter’s vulnerability. He seems genuinely horrified by the idea that Depp didn’t plagiarize the manuscript. Maria Bello, Charles Dutton and Timothy Hutton (whom for reasons too complicated to explain I am no longer able to think of in terms other than “Princess Timothy”) also do strong work.
Koepp’s direction is effective yet subdued. Capable of creepy, yet understated imagery such as the mirror that impossibly well “mirrors” Depp’s actions in the real world right before the climax.
The movie hums along more or less perfectly. Until the overly literalized climax which features Depp literally superimposed over all of Shooter’s action thanks to the magic of cross fade. A disappointedly lowest common denominator “Gettit?” move from a film that heretofore treated its audience with a heapin helpin of respect.
Secret Window does redeem itself with its admirably stark ending. It’s a good movie, but I don’t know that its reputation will ever grow past the modest respect that it seems to be afforded today. And I don’t know if it would be half as effective if it ever did.