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Secret Window  (2004)

 

Starring: Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello

Director: David Koepp

Rating: PG-13

Distributor: Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment

Release Date: June 22, 2004
Review posted: June 29, 2004

Spoilers: None

 

Reviewed by Dylan Grant and Jon Bjorling

 

SYNOPSIS

 

Following a bitter separation from his wife, fames mystery writer Mort Rainey (Depp) is unexpectedly confronted at his remote lake house by a dangerous stranger (Turturro), claiming that Rainey plagiarized his story. As the horror spirals out of control, Rainey soon discovers that he cannot trust anyone or anything.

 

CRITIQUE

 

The Film According to Dylan

 

Mort Rainey has been sleeping a lot lately. He is a blocked writer recently, bitterly separated from his wife (Bello). The opening scene lays this out for us, as Mort storms into a motel room and finds his wife in bed with Ted (Timothy Hutton). One day his afternoon is interrupted by John Shooter (Turturro), and from there the film never stops moving.

 

Secret Window, based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King, calls several past works to mind.  Koepp’s previous Stir of Echoes, Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (acknowledged as an inspiration by Koepp), and King’s The Dark Half, all while creating its own sense of menace. Depp is superb as Rainey, giving the impression that Rainey is scared of everything. Turturro is appropriately menacing as the mysterious Shooter. The acting in Secret Window is the best part about the film. It is a shame that the performers did not have better material to work with. Secret Window is not a bad film, but is familiar, predictable. We know where the story is going long before it ever occurs to Rainey, and that fact makes it a bit difficult to watch certain scenes.

 

The climactic scene, where the big twist is revealed, is the best scene in the film, a technical feat. The way Koepp turns the little click in Mort’s head – where everything becomes clear to him – into a virtuoso scene is remarkable to watch. On a strictly technical level, this is an amazing film. Koepp gets the maximum mileage out of the cabin set, which is where most of the action takes place. Koepp wrote the script for Panic Room, and it is clear that the experience of working on that film informs the making of Secret Window.

 

This film is well constructed, well written, and the acting is outstanding, but the film does not do well to keep its secrets hidden, with too much becoming apparent too soon. Though flawed, Secret Window is tense throughout, and it is definitely worth seeing.

 

The Film According to Jon

 

Secret Window is quite possibly the best adaptation of a Stephen King short story.  The film takes the essence of King’s short and builds upon it in many satisfying ways. While the film does have its problems, it is an enjoyable watch. 

 

Johnny Depp gives a wonderful performance as Mort Rainey. Rainey is a man tortured by his recent separation and his inability to write. Depp plays the role with a wonderful off beat tone, blending physical humor and naturalistic smart-ass comebacks. I truly believe this one of his best roles. John Turturro is genuinely creepy as John Shooter; the man who claims Rainey stole his work. He is the sort of villain who has the ability to show up anywhere, at anytime, and we never question it. Charles Dutton is enjoyable to watch as the private detective hired to the case, although we never get the opportunity to enjoy his presence as much as I would have liked. 

 

The story has numerous twists and turns, most of which never really pan out. However, the story does give the viewer many clues, some real and some fake. And while the biggest twist of the story may or may not surprise, I found that the ending itself was the biggest surprise of the film. 

 

Overall, it’s a fun watch. King fans will be pleased with the adaptation. Mystery and horror fans will love to follow the clues and try and guess “whodunit” before the big reveal. It’s a well made and sometimes very cleaver little film.

 

THE VIDEO

 

Secret Window is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is clean, with the full color scale exceptionally translated, and there is no graininess or signs of digital artifacting. Overall, it looks wonderful. Optional subtitles are available in English and French.

 

THE AUDIO

 

This DVD has tracks in both English and French, both presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. The ambient sound works well in the night scenes and adds a wonderful level of dread to the story. The dialogue is clear and is never buried underneath music or sound effects. The audio presentation is exceptionally sharp, with the surround sound coming through crisply in all channels.

 

THE EXTRAS

 

Commentary by writer/director David Koepp: Recorded before the film’s theatrical release, Koepp talks about the technical aspects of making the film, how certain decisions were made, working with the actors and creating the films visual motif. While not the most lively commentary track, this is still very interesting and worth a listen.

 

Theatrical trailers: Self-explanatory, but these trailers are a lot of fun.

 

Four deleted scenes with optional director’s commentary: Only two of these scenes have actual commentary. Koepp talks about the scenes and explains what led to them being cut. Two are extended sequences, including a few more seconds added to the ending (which makes sure there is no doubt as to what happened in the ending.) And the other two are short cuts that really have no bearing on plot.

 

“From Book to Film” featurette: Koepp talks about his inspirations, how he came to the film, and Depp and Turturro talk about their characters.

 

“A Look Through It” featurette: This takes a technical look at how some of the films more complex shots were put together. Koepp gives much of the same information he gives in his commentary.

 

“Secrets Revealed” featurette: A look at how the revealing scene at the end of the film was shot.

 

Animated Storyboards: computer generated creations of four of the films more complicated shots: opening credits, pushing the car off the cliff, twist revealed, and into the garden. These are interesting to watch to see how each scene went from conception to finished film.

 

Note from Dylan: The bonus material goes into great detail on the making of the film. Considering the use of the cabin set, it would have been nice to have something on how the set was constructed, but that is a minor point when there is so much already.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

From Dylan's desktop: Despite its faults, Secret Window is a tense, tightly constructed film. It is exceptionally represented on this DVD, with a great transfer and detailed special features. This is definitely worth a watch.

 

From Jon's desktop: It’s a shame that the featurettes do nothing more than just repeat the information given in the commentary track though.  It’s a fun little film that, although I figured out the twist long before the film revealed it, I still felt satisfied with the end.

 

VERDICT: RECOMMENDED

 

Home | Back to Top

 

:: The Disc

 

:: Disc Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

8

THE VIDEO

8

THE AUDIO

8

THE EXTRAS

8

OVERALL

8

 

:: Merchandise

 

FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT

By Stephen King

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