SECRET WINDOWTHE SPARROWS ARE FLYING AGAIN? | Mar 10, 2004
Secret Window is the latest effort from Hollywood’s scriptwriter turned director, David Koepp. The film itself is based on Stephen King's short story reworking of the Dark Half, entitled Secret Window, Secret Garden. The fact that the stories are so similar only serves to further ground the story into extremely familiar territory. For a man who has proved to be a veritable fountain of creepy ideas, I must say King has shown a propensity to repeat himself these past few years. Even David Koepp seems well aware of, and poke fun at the alarming similarities to the Dark Half, as he has cast Timothy Hutton, the George Romero film version’s George Stark, in a supporting role. But as time has proven again and again, third party screen adaptations of King’s work tend to be far better than ones he has had a hand in himself, so it can’t really be that bad a film.
Or could it?
The film stars Johnny Depp, as Mort Raney - successful author and soon to be divorcee. Sporting a peroxide job similar to the orangutan orange abuses you see on the Hong Kong exchange students, Mort has holed himself up in his cabin retreat to distance himself from his pending marital split, and better focus on his writing at hand. Oddly enough, he’s spending a lot more napping than working. Enter horrific hick, John Shooter (John Turturro, resembling the preacher from Poltergeist II: The Other Side) who accuses Mort of outright plagiarism, a transgression considered comparable to intellectual rape by many in the literary world. He tells Mort that he wants justice, and it’s up to him to take care of the matter. It doesn’t help that Shooter seems slightly off his rocker, and Mort’s been guilty of plagiarism at least once in his past. Needless to say, Depp frantically tries to prove his innocence to the imposing redneck, before he does what scary pilgrims in horror films do best: kill stuff.
The film's biggest strength, as well as its biggest weakness, is Johnny Depp. Although he manages to effortlessly provide us with his usual great performance, his newfound superstardom only serves to get in the way of an honest attachment to his character. His rockstar like persona has become so prominent that it floats ever at the surface of the audience's perception, never once allowing us to disappear into the depths of Mort's character. Sure, he skillfully weaves slight clues as to his character’s mindset in things as slight as his verbal inflection when he becomes agitated, but even in those moments you can’t help but laugh. It’s Johnny Depp! The Pirate! Ed Wood! Edward Scissorhands! He’s our favourite entertainer, and as such, not once is the severity of his situation translated to the audience. But it doesn't just affect his character. With a star this big, even actors as great as John Tuturro realize they don’t have to work as hard. We're not there to see them, and unfortunately it is reflected in the throwaway performances they deliver.
The cinematography itself is pleasant enough, but nothing too outstanding. I wouldn’t say this was a problem with the art direction, but rather because we know the little New England havens of other King adaptations so well, that there’s not really too much Koepp could do that would be fresh and new. We have a nice score by Philip Glass, fresh off the Fog of War, but again, it was nothing I left the theater humming to myself. Lastly, the story is so unrelentingly similar to the Dark Half, there's no room for surprises. If you’ve read King’s book, or seen Romero’s adaptation, you will at least suspect the twist of the story before the beginning titles even roll. For a film whose protagonist proclaims “The only thing that matters is the ending…and this one’s perfect,” you’d expect something that would blow you out of the theater. In all truthfulness, I’m afraid the only way to honestly surprise an audience these days would be to have no twist whatsoever, because they’re automatically looking for the twist once the film starts.
Secret Window is a film that's success really only hinges on Johnny Depp's current star power. If he wasn’t in the film, there would be no reason to see it. Likewise, if you’re not a Depp fan, just save yourself some money and check out Romero’s version of The Dark Half, or better yet, pick up a copy of King’s book at the local library.
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