Secret Window


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The paranoia of defeat is particularly potent. Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) is a best-selling author with writer's block, living in a house in the woods in New York State, going through a divorce and hating life.

He wanders around in a torn dressing gown, unshaven. The effort of making an effort is way too strenuous. Who cares? No one sees him. Except Mrs Garvey (Joan Heney), who comes to clean. He hates her, so she doesn't count. Why does he hate her? He just does. She annoys him.

His working day is spent on the sofa, horizontal, hopefully asleep. He has written one paragraph of a new novel. He knows it's crap. He tells himself so. He says, "I can't stand bad writing." He deletes it. And then he has nothing. A blank sheet. A blank sheet of paper.

He returns to the sofa.

A man comes to the door. How could he have a visitor in this impossible-to-find place? Mort is suspicious. The man (John Turturro) is tall, pissed-off looking, wearing one of those black Southern preacher hats. He says his name is John Shooter and he wants to know - DEMANDS to know - in a harsh Mississippi drawl, why Mort stole his story. Mort hasn't a clue what he's talking about and tells him to go away. There is something in the muzz of his mind that says, "Walk softly. This man is dangerous." And so it turns out.

Based on one of Stephen King's less well remembered novellas, writer/director David Koepp has woven an elaborate web around the concept of a stalker, with a grudge, who obsesses about endings - not bullet-in-the-head endings, rather the literary kind, with screwdriver-in-the-temples tendencies when things don't go his way.

As a thriller, it is non-conformist and packed with surprises. Mort's soon-to-be-ex wife Amy (Maria Bello) and her live-in lover Ted (Timothy Hutton) are dragged into the drama, partly because Mort won't sign the divorce paper and partly because Shooter finds out where they live. Also, Mort discovers that Ted, whom he hates even more than Mrs Garvey, comes from a small town in Tennessee called Shooters Hill.

This is a tour-de-force for Depp. He is magnificent, carrying the film single-handed, as Turturro has to look menacing and Biblical, but not dig deep into motivation. Bello is skinny and blonde, petite without being sexy, and Hutton is bulky, as if he was fed T-bone steaks as a kid and now has a head too large for the screen.

Paranoia abuses the intelligence of those who care. Where there should be clarity, there is nothing. In the case of the writer who cannot write, what appears to be false is as important as what appears to be true. The trick is to tell the difference. Mort has no doubts. This is his story.

Don't tell him.

Reviewed on: 29 Apr 2004
Share this with others on...
Secret Window packshot
A writer suffering from block is accused of plagiarism by a spooky stranger.
Amazon link

Director: David Koepp

Writer: David Koepp, based on the novella by Stephen King

Starring: Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, Timothey Hutton, Charles S Dutton, Len Cariou, Joan Heney, John Dunn-Hill

Year: 2004

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


Search database: