Monday, October 17, 2016

Secret Window

Secret Window (2004) finds the familiar Stephen King tropes: a writer with a troubled marriage, a drinking problem, and writer's block. All we need is the fundamentalist mother and the teen bully who thinks it's 1955, and we have a BINGO.

Despite the familiarity of the story elements, Secret Window makes for a reasonably effective and entertaining thriller that gets better the further along it goes. The movie begins in a relatively mundane, straightforward manner but subtly plays on expectations to get to something all together more complex and devious.

The writer in question is Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), struggling to get to work on a new book alone at his cabin on a lake. He and his wife Amy (Maria Bello) are divorcing, but he still hasn't signed the papers, even though she's living with Ted (Timothy Hutton). Then, John Shooter (John Turturro) turns up. An angry man with a thick southern accent, he accuses Mort of plagiarism and demands he make it right. Otherwise, things will get awfully ugly.

Secret Window is about a man in crisis, both personally and professionally. Mort is a guy who's had some success in the literary world, but now, he's stagnant. His personal life is in shambles, and he can't get to work on anything. His idea of accomplishing some writing is to eventually delete the one paragraph he actually typed on his computer. Then, Shooter arrives and makes it worse. It's one thing to be a has-been; it's another thing to have someone accuse your past success of having been built on fraud and stealing.

As the movie progresses, we watch Mort disintegrate further and further. Shooter always seems to be one step ahead of him and capable of saying just the right thing to get under his skin or make Mort afraid of what he might do. Mort becomes angrier, paranoid, and unhinged, although the real question might be not whether he's going crazy but if this Shooter situation is revealing just how disturbed he already was.

I'm trying my best not to spoil anything, but in some ways, Secret Window shares a kinship with The Dark Half (and ironically, Timothy Hutton starred in that adaptation), and not just because they're both about writers. They're both about writers questioning who they are and what they write after being accused of some dishonest behavior. They're both about the identity of writers, but while The Dark Half went for a more literal tale of Jekyll and Hyde and a mad killer, Secret Window is more psychological and less straightforward.

Depp turns in one of his better latter-day performances. This was just before he got swallowed up by Jack Sparrow, but here, he dials down the goofiness. While Mort is an eccentric to a degree, he balances the complexities nicely, so he's believable, and he taps into the darkness of the character.

Turturro took some getting used to, but I warmed to his performance by the end; the accent and brim hat are almost laughable, but the revelation into his true nature goes a long way in alleviating that. Bello is sympathetic as the soon-to-be ex who still has some feelings for him but knows it's time to move on, and Hutton brings appropriate ambiguity to his role.

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