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Movie Review: Secret Window

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There isn’t anything overly special about David Koepp’s Secret Window. It’s not any more tense, interesting or entertaining than many of the other psychological thrillers out there. However, it’s enough of all of those things to be given a pass.

A writer is accused of plagiarism by a strange man who appears on his doorstep one morning, a man who then proceeds to haunt him for “stealing his story”. I seem to remember this film being a lot better the first time I saw it. Subsequent viewings later, the film seems to have deteriorated in quality. Whether that’s down to bad memory or my honed critical way of looking at films that’s caused it, I don’t really know. Whatever the reason there’s no doubting that weaknesses have become blatantly apparent.

I think my sudden bitterness towards this film has got a little something to do with the fact that I recently finished reading the Stephen King book it’s based on. It’s not really fair to compare two such different mediums and point out the inevitable difference between the two. Undoubtedly there are going to be huge differences and I now, having read the Secret Window, Secret Garden story, understand all those people who say, “This isn’t in the book… this isn’t how it happens,” and the like. It’s not the film’s fault that the readers should turn against it because of its deviation from the source material. You have to judge a film separately; things needs to be adapted and changed to work in the medium of film. I understand this completely but a part of me still gets a little annoyed when some plot points or character details differ from the book.

I think the problems with Secret Window start with just how ordinary it feels, perhaps not “ordinary” per se but just “nothing special”. It sort of plods along adequately, ticking all the right boxes but it never gets to much of an impressive level. In its attempts to hit the psychological and personal levels of pain and anguish it doesn’t really get there, you can see the attempts all throughout the film, some more admirable than others, but it doesn’t quite cut it. There are some interesting direction techniques, with some quite sophisticated and convincing special effects and it has two or three scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat.

I did like Johnny Depp in the lead role, applying his usual quirky, off-beat nature which we have come to know so well. He is really quite believable as the semi-depressed, paranoid, and disheartened writer Mort Rainey, and it’s always great to see him in a role that isn’t Captain Jack Sparrow. However the shining star of the film isn’t Depp. The thing that single-handedly saved the film and made it worthwhile was the inclusion and performance of one John Turturro. To again compare film to book, Turturro captures the character of John Shooter perfectly, bringing that incisive and downright scary nature that King so finitely conjured up in the book. The film's major strengths lie in the scenes with Turturro and Depp; the batting back and forth of threatening and paranoid dialogue is an absolute nerving joy to watch.

The film may be a great companion piece for anyone who’s a novelist or writer and is going through something similar to the character — a divorce, an obsessive fan, or just plain old writer’s block. If nothing else it does a pretty good job of capturing the angst that many writers have to go through on the most basic of levels; even for the best of authors sometimes trying to write a good story is a difficult thing to do in and of itself.

Although there are certainly details and plot points played around with and changed in the film, none is tampered with quite as much as the ending. To say it differs significantly would be a huge understatement. I won’t reveal it, to spare anyone who would like to learn it from watching the film rather than here, but let’s just say it is peculiar that they managed to conjure up such a well done, fitting ending when you consider the not-so-exceptional rest of the film.

I can quite comfortably recommend Secret Window, just managing to give it a pass down to its adequate ticking of all the correct cinematic boxes, a surprisingly anti-Hollywood ending, and especially the chilling performance by Turturro. However it will no doubt leave fans of the original story a bit irked by the changes.

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About Ross Miller