Secret Window. Columbia Pictures presents a film written and directed by David Koepp. Based Stephen King's novella "Secret Window, Secret Garden." Rated PG-13 (violence-terror, sexual content, language). Running time: 106 minutes. Starring Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton, Charles S. Dutton.

Secret Window

Mort Rainey, famous author, walks aroiund his house, dressed in his ex-wife's bathrobe. He struggles over the first paragraph of a new story, talks to his beloved blind dog, guzzles Doritos and sleeps on the couch. He is bored, confused, lazy, and perfectly content with his current lifestyle. That is, until he is met at the door by an imposing man with a heavy Mississippi drawl. "Yew stohl mah storee," the man tells Mort. He introduces himself as John Shooter and hands over a manuscript entitled "Sowing Season," which is almost word-for-word identical to a story Mort wrote: "Secret Window." Mort dismisses Shooter as insane, Shooter starts making dire threats and then acting upon them.

This makes up the plotline for Secret Window, David Koepp's adaptation of the Stephen King novella "Secret Window, Secret Garden." Mort is played by Johnny Depp, one of the most brilliantly inventive actors working today. In Pirates of the Caribbean, Depp stole the show; in Secret Window, he is the show, and he bites into the part with relish. He walks around the house, isolated, in dire need of a shave and a hair cut. Depp refuses to play anything traditionally, and here even the most mundane of tasks is turned into something bizarrely astounding. Shooter is played by John Turturro, who goes over-the-top in order to make Shooter as menacing as possible and pulls it off.

Secret Window is primarily a thriller, and a good one at that. Koepp to create a claustrophobic atmosphere, and he proves to be a master of the slow reveal. During times of heightened tension, the film is all tight close-ups, allowing very little to be seen in frame, which lets our imagination run wild about what could be hiding around the corner. Whether or not anything is there is beside the point: it's the tension that matters. The dialogue is crisp and believable, and the scenes between Depp and Turturro simply smolder.

And, of course, there is the obligatory third-act twist. In this kind of movie I prefer to sit back and not even try to figure out what's going on; it's more fun if I can just let the film take me in without thinking about it too hard. So, while I didn't really figure the movie out ahead of time, I wasn't at all surprised by the twist. But the difference between this predictable ending, and - say - the one in The Recruit is that Koepp doesn't make it seem like no one would have expected what's coming, and doesn't treat it like some grand revealing, or the entire point of the film. And, even if you figure the twist out, there's still plenty of tension as to what will happen to the characters.

Supporting performances come from Maria Bello as Mort's ex-wife, Amy, Timothy Hutton as Amy's boyfriend, Ted, and Charles S. Dutton as a private investigator Mort hires. Their roles are small, as the film is primarily Depp and Turturro, but they all do solid work.

Without the top-notch talent invovled, Secret Window could have turned into an execrable mess. But because of Depp, Koepp, and Turturro, it is instead a strong, taught thriller that doesn't wimp out with a for-the-masses denouement. It isn't perfect, but it more than gets the job done.

© 2004 Matt Noller