The Johnny Depp Archive

Secret Window (2004)

Starring: Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Charles S Dutton

Directed by: David Koepp

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Johnny Depp as Mort Rainey in Secret Window, with John Turturro as John Shooter

Secret Window is based on a novella by prolific horror scribbler Stephen King, which straightaway gives you some clue as to what you're in for: something scary, suspenseful, or at the very least, unexpected.

Some of the greatest films ever made have been based on Stephen King stories (The Shining, Stand By Me, Misery, Pet Cemetery. okay, maybe not Pet Cemetery, but it sure scared the bejesus out of me) and some fairly awful ones as well (It, which despite the presence of Tim Curry still managed to stink. for four whole hours.)

And Secret Window? Well, it kinda falls somewhere in between. The story is satisfactorily macabre (I always love it when a Hollywood ending is denied) but not as gripping or tense as it could be, and were it not for the presence of the divine Mr Depp, I probably wouldn't have bothered going to see it at the cinema at all.

Watch that hair go... Johnny as Mort Rainey in Secret Window

Johnny, however, carries the film with a grace, humour and charisma that makes the whole thing well worthwhile. He plays Morton Rainey, a lazy writer who's retired to a secluded lakeside holiday home, supposedly to write (not that you ever see him write a thing) and get over his messy divorce. Now ladies, if you like Johnny down and dirty (okay, looking a state - we're talking Captain Jack and Dead Man's William Blake rather than Ichabod Crane) then you are in for a treat because he looks beautifully dishevelled. Like Dean Corso's scruffy younger brother, he's patchily shaved, with dirty blond hair that should merit its own dressing room, as it seems to do as much acting as he does, sticking up at all angles like Edward Scissorhands' before smoothing itself down into a sinister bob at the end.

Mort takes a nap... for a change

Mort seems to spend most of his time napping on the sofa (waking up to find his hair even more unkempt and wild), eating Doritos (sponsorship deal? Everyone in the film seems to keep a share-size bag to hand), trying not to smoke and spending precisely zero time in front of his computer. One day, he is woken from one of his naps by a stranger at his door, played by the fantastically deadpan John Turturro. The stranger, a dour Mississippi man called John Shooter, who wears a black preacherman's hat and probably has a box of snakes in the back of his truck, claims that Mort has stolen his story, and brings along a copy to prove it. Next thing Mort knows, his dog is dead, his ex-wife's house has been burnt down and the private detective he sets on Shooter turns up dead (that's the second time I've seen poor Charles S Dutton hacked to bits in a month - he really should learn to steer clear of axe-wielding maniacs).

The man in the hat: Mort and Shooter

But why is Shooter so intent on destroying his life, and what can Mort do to get rid of him?

<POSSIBLE SPOILER>Of course, things are not all they seem: there's a twist in the tale. It has to be said, this twist is pretty obvious (especially if you've just seen Switchblade Romance - it's basically the same, although perhaps makes a little more sense in Secret Window) but Johnny brings it off with such panache that you don't feel disappointed. In fact as soon as you guess it (about 15 minutes into the film, unfortunately) you start hoping you're right because it'll be such fun to see Johnny go completely off his rocker.</POSSIBLE SPOILER>

Nice hat Johnny... Mort with the ultra-annoying Ted

<DEFINITE SPOILER>Yes, you guessed it, Shooter doesn't actually exist, Mort has made him up. Traumatised by his wife's infidelity (he finds her in bed with another man, the ultra-annoying Ted, whom she now lives with) and fuelled by Jack Daniels (natch), his mind has literally split in two, and the result is a crazy Southern preacher out for vengeance. Er, yeah.

As a study of a mind in chaos it's not exactly subtle, but thanks to Johnny's knife-edge nutterdom it's still pretty cool - although you can't help thinking that being killed with a shovel might be a fair price to pay for being chased around a lake by him, he looks that good as a crazy man. (or perhaps that's just me). And although hardly in the same league as The Shining, the themes of isolation leading to madness and the terrible tricks the mind can play on a man are still effective. Whilst the moral of Dead By Dawn may have been that the scariest monster around is man, in Secret Window we discover there's something scarier still: the mind.</DEFINITE SPOILER>

My verdict? A one-man show that's a real treat if you're a Depp fan but probably not that riveting otherwise. Still, it's definitely better than Gothika.

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