Like most writers, I long for a quiet out-of-the-way place to do my creative work. An isolated cabin in the woods would be perfect -- just like the one in Secret Window, Johnny Depp's latest flick. But I wouldn't want the psychological terrors Depp's character, a famous author, faced while living there. During a severe bout of writer's block caused by depression over his wife's infidelity, he's confronted by a mysterious stranger out for revenge. Why? "You stole my story," he tells Depp. And the suspenseful games begin.
Depp's portrayal of Mort Rainey, the troubled author in question, is fascinating to watch. Okay, I admit being an avid Depp fan, and I've already sung his praise in my reviews of Pirates of the Caribbean, Sleepy Hollow, Ninth Gate, Chocolat and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. So what's new about this amazing actor in Secret Window?
Maybe nothing new, but much to my delight, Depp appears on screen more than ever here. The film opens with his photogenic face almost completely covering the wide screen -- his dark eyes staring directly at the audience. Fortunately, director David Koepp (Panic Room) wisely gives Depp every opportunity to show the inner workings of a mind slowly coming to grips with its own demons. Realizing the devil is in the details, Depp uses little things like unusual voice inflections, worried frowns, intriguing grimaces, even a tattered old bathrobe to cast a spell over viewers and draw us into his confused world. And, oh yes, he can do no wrong with those impressive hand gestures. Depp may be the only actor around today who's able to turn washing and drying his hands into a dramatic clue about the character he's playing. Kudos also to Fred Murphy's (Stir of Echoes) cinematography. His shots of Depp's reflection in mirrors and windows help create an almost shadowy persona for the distressed scribe -- which is highly appropriate considering Depp plays Rainey as a shadow of his former successful self.
Adapted by filmmaker Koepp from a Stephen King novella, Secret Window elicits most of its suspense from the interaction between Depp and John Turturro (O Brother Where Art Thou?), who completely creeped me out as Shooter, the man accusing our hero of plagiarism. The moment Shooter came to Rainey's door, my sense of foreboding was strong enough to cut with a knife from the cabin's rustic kitchen. I soon began to fear not only for Rainey's safety but also for that of his estranged wife (Maria Bello). And I became very suspicious of her new boyfriend (Timothy Hutton), who seemed much too curious about the couple's divorce settlement.
In short, Secret Window is my kind of thriller -- one filled with uncertainty, anxiety and nerve-wracking tension. I think my heart's still pounding as I finish this review. Still, most of Depp's movies have that effect on me. But you knew that already, didn't you?
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "PG-13" for violence/terror, sexual content and language.)