By nature writers are quirky people. While they may pay attention to the mundane details of life in a painful manner, they are often unaware of their own behavior. While in the pursuit of a story they may pace around as the rough idea of pages come to them, or sit for hours staring at the screen thinking of the next precise word. They have a tendency to snack constantly rather then break for a meal and to remain in the same dirty clothes rather then break for a shower. I know this behavior because as a writer I’ve done all of it at some point or another. That’s the first part of the psychological thriller Secret Window that made me sit up and take notice – a writer named Mort Rainey.
Rainey is not the first character brought to life beyond anything we could expect on a page by Johnny Depp. In the past Depp has created a creature with scissors as hands, a man in the pursuit of the most elusive serial killer of all time, and the worst pirate anyone has ever seen. Rainey is not as over the top or outgoing as any of those other characters (although his out of control hair is close at times). He is simply a man, a writer, trying to struggle through life. His wife has cheated on him and now the two of them are in the midst of a divorce. He has moved to the solitude of a woodland lakeside cabin and tried to return his focus to his writing. And then one day his life is interrupted as a stranger comes to his door and accuses Rainey of stealing his story.
Depp is definitely the highlight of the movie, which is good since he’s the character the movie revolves around. He creates Rainey just as completely as he created Captain Jack Sparrow in last summer’s Pirates of the Caribbean. In interacting with his ex-wife (Maria Bello) we can see the pain and the love he still holds for her. Rainey’s spats with her boyfriend Ted (Timothy Hutton) show his anger. Yet none of that holds a candle to his conversations with himself. Rainey spends at least a third of the film alone, but we never feel that he’s isolated. Out-of-nowhere quips and commentary about the situations Rainey finds himself in provide real depth to Rainey as a struggling writer. That is where the real genius of Depp’s work on this character comes from.
Playing the nemesis to Rainey is John Turturro, hidden in the character of John Shooter, a farmer from Mississippi who claims Rainey stole his story and released it as a short entitled “Secret Window”. Shooter gives a deadline for Rainey to prove he wrote it first and warns him to keep the subject just between the two of them. When Rainey fails to do so, Shooter becomes calmly psychotic – taking action to keep Rainey where he wants him, but always with a self-justified demeanor when appearing on screen. He presents himself as a man who is confidant that he is right and will go to any lengths to show that he has been wronged, including eliminating Rainey’s entire world if that’s what it takes. His dedication becomes more frightening as the movie evolves, especially as he warns Rainey to be careful in proving him wrong, because if he is wrong, then he must be crazy, and as a crazy man he might really be dangerous.
Writer/Director David Koepp (writer of Spider-Man and Jurassic Park and director of Stir of Echoes) does an excellent job of bringing Secret Window to the screen. On the writing side he has taken a short story by Stephen King and created a strong and suspenseful plot, highlighted by complete and memorable characters as a solid base for his actors to work with. On the directorial side, he understands how a psychological thriller should work and makes his movie follow those rules. The movie builds just as a story of this type should and the audience is never ahead of the movie. To ensure this, the movie holds a Shyamalan-size twist that I won’t even hint at, but that makes perfect sense as it’s revealed.
Secret Window is a fantastic foray into the front of psychological thrillers, a front that too many movies fail in attempting. With Koepp’s storytelling and Depp’s ingenious acting abilities, this is a film that will keep audiences interested and on the edge of their seats as the story unfolds.