Screen gems...with M.V. Moorhead
‘Secret Window’

After his fine, freaky performances in Pirates of the Caribbean and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Johnny Depp seems startlingly normal in the thriller Secret Window.

He plays Mort Rainey, a successful crime-fiction writer who lives in a beautiful rural house by a lake. When we meet him, his wife (Maria Bello) has left him for another man (Timothy Hutton), and he's surrendered to writer's block and retreated to his couch for lots of depressive naps.

One day he opens his door and sees a black-hatted Mississippian who calls himself John Shooter (the very creepy John Turturro).

"You stole my story," Shooter drawls, by way of beginning the conversation. This eerie stranger insists that Mort plagiarized his short tale "Secret Window," and, worse, that he ruined its ending. He threatens Mort with violence if he doesn't right the alleged wrong, or if he goes to the police. Mort fails to heed either demand, and escalating violence results.

This adaptation of, and improvement upon, one of Stephen King's less memorable yarns (the novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” which appeared in the collection Four Past Midnight), was written by Jurassic Park adapter David Koepp, who also directed.

It's not a great thriller by any stretch. It doesn't invoke any profound dread, and the mystery at its core isn't too hard to guess.

But it's fairly satisfying anyway. There's a handsome, Hitchcockian stateliness to Koepp's direction, and there are many specific scenes—one involving the disposal of a couple of bodies, especially—that overtly show the influence of Sir Alfred's morbid wit.

The cinematography of Fred Murphy has a placid, rustic prettiness that counterpoints the sinister storyline, and composer Philip Glass contributes a strong, ominous score.

Above all, though, it’s Johnny Depp that makes Secret Window worthwhile. At a glance, his turn here looks like one of the more conventional leading-man parts he’s ever played, but it’s more complex than that.

Depp brings a squirrelly, oddball authenticity to Mort Rainey, and a wry passive-aggression. Probably because he spends much of his footage alone onscreen, Depp takes comic advantage of the writer's habit of talking out loud to himself, and now and then he sings snatches of Talking Heads songs, or the theme from Chico and the Man. Even when he's a leading man, Depp is still a character.

The DVD: The disc contains a variety of typical featurettes, some of which are too indiscreet about the story’s twists to be viewed before watching the movie. There are some intriguing animated storyboards of key scenes, and a commentary track by adapter-director Koepp.

The film is a bit violent and nasty to be suitable viewing for younger kids, despite a lenient PG-13 rating. One other big warning: Near the beginning of Secret Window, we're introduced to Mort's splendid, anxious-faced little dog, who by a large margin is the most likable character in the movie.

To those moviegoers who (like me) can sit and watch virtually any outrage perpetrated against an adult human being, but can't bear so much as a harsh word directed toward a dog, let me simply say that this movie probably isn't for you.