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Secret Window

A movie directed by David Koepp

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Secret Window; Johnny Depp Shines Again, But…

  • Apr 27, 2004
  • by
Pros: Johnny Depp!

Cons: Weak plotline, lack of character development.

The Bottom Line: While there were a few moment of trepidation laced throughout the film, in the final analysis Secret Window lacked the solid foundation of a fresh story and inspired direction.

ust when you thought Hollywood's exploitation of Stephen King's mastery of the macabre had run its course, up pops yet another of the writer’s tomes set to film. But Secret Window staring Johnny Depp is not one of Kings most widely know works. The movie was adapted for the silver screen from a rather obscure novella (tales that are longer and deeper than short stories, yet shorter and less complex than a full-length novel) Secret Window, Secret Garden that appeared in the author's 1990 Four Past Midnight novella collection. Other King novellas that have been adapted for the small and large screen include the television adaptation of The Langoliers, and movie versions of Apt Pupil, and Hearts in Atlantis.

Although Secret Window is only billed as being “based” on a Stephen King story, the storyline is so laden with classic King staples (small backwoods town, a struggling alcoholic writer, marital dysfunction, seriously mentally ill character, etc.), it is difficult not to identify Secret Window more closely to the best-selling author.

The Plot

As I pointed out above Johnny Depp is the central focus of this film; he portrays Morton (Mort) Rainey, a successful writer virtually self-destructing in the throes of messy divorce. Six months prior Rainey discovered his wife Amy Dowd Rainy (Maria Bello), having a sorted affair with another man (Timothy Hutton), and his otherwise ideal life was shattered. Now his days are spent locked in the grip of writers block (laboring unproductively over a single page of a new book ostensibly about infidelity) and the inability sleep without dreams plagued with visions of the night he found his wife lying with another man. And oh yes, those are interspersed with ghoulish nightmares about near death and dying. Having moved out of the upscale suburban New York City home he purchased with Amy, he now lives in a secluded cabin on the shore of an undisclosed lake in a small town somewhere north of New York City.

Mort’s idle existence is rudely interrupted one day when a brusque, obdurate man named John Shooter (John Turturro) come calling at the front door, accusing Mort of stealing his story entitled Secret Window. Mort—who we later learn has been accused of plagiarism in the past—at first shrugs off Shooter's assertions and threats, but soon realizes just how similar their stories are to one another. And he discovers just how far Shooter will go to set right the alleged wrong done to him. As Shooter's appearances become more frequent and intrusive, not to mention violent, Mort seeks the help of a private detective (Charles S. Dutton) in a bid to both discourage Shooter and solve the mystery of the dueling stories. And so it goes…

The Johnny Depp Effect

Unarguably Johnny Depp in one of the most productive, creative, talented, versatile, and popular (my spouse and her friends loves him) actors working in Hollywood today. No matter his role, Depp dominates the films he appears in; it’s as if by his very presence he is able to make the vehicle his own. But Depp refused to be typecast, every role is freshly made, every character speaks in a unique voice; indeed Depp has built a career on hopping genres, seamlessly shifting from mainstream to Independent file and back again. That is not to say that all of Depp’s cinematic choices have always been winning films, but his appearance in them have always been memorable, from Eric Scissorhands to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, to Once Upon a Time in Mexico Depp embodies the roles he chooses, diving deep into the character, dragging us cheering and clapping along for the ride.

In the Secret Window Depp does it again. Wearing natty cloths, his blonde curly hair constantly disheveled, seemingly always on the brink of slumber, Depp's Morton Rainey struts through the tribulations of his divorce and the ever-mounting threat of Shooter with piercing, sardonic wit and undeniable charm, that at once endear him to viewers.

As good as Depp was as Mort, he could not carry the entire film on his narrow shoulders. John Shooter, through at points fittingly creepy, wasn’t quite creepy enough. I experience no goose-bumps, no racing heartbeats, and no lingering fear in my veins from his presence. Timothy Hutton failed to move me at all as the adulterer Depp and (we) are supposed to loath; in fact I found it hard to believe Amy would even fall for him in the first place. Speaking of Amy, Maria Bello does a reasonable job bringing her to life, but not enough was drawn out about her life and self for me to truly care about her.


Secret Window lacked true suspense; the film seemed to float from scene to scene in a disjointed fashion that never completely weaves a web of expectation. And as a King vehicle—even one just “based” on his novella—it falls flat until the very end. The script could have been tighter, and I would have suffered through at least another thirty minutes in order to sink my teeth into a juicer plotline, and more character development.

All of that aside, going to see Secret Window was not a complete waste, thanks in large measure to Depp’s mastery of his role. Like Sean Penn, Depp is always a pleasure to watch, so skilled is he in his art. And while there were a few moment of trepidation laced throughout the film, in the final analysis Secret Window lacked the solid foundation of a fresh story and inspired direction. Secret Window is proof positive that not every Window in Kings formidable writing castle need be opened; it might have been better to leave this one nailed shut.


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More Secret Window reviews
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Being an avid Johnny Depp fan, I watched this movie for the 50th time again last night. Based on Steven King's "Secret Window Secret Garden" this film is one that I can watch over and over again and still be entertained.                                                      Depp plays author Mort Rainey who …
review by . November 07, 2009
Some windows should never be opened...
I've seen psychological thriller's that try to scare you more than melt your brain, this one I'm proud to say does both. It's a very, very malicious and haunting thrill machine. I t brings the very essence of how horror and Psycho thriller's are suppose to be done, not with over the top gore and CGI, but with old school conventional means.          Secret Window is as sinister as it is smart it rolls along at a very steady pace and brings more to the table than what …
review by . April 30, 2009
Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) a writer in a remote house in upstate New York, encounters an "apparent" fan, a character named Shooter (John Turturro). Shooter has accused Mort of stealing his story and threatens to kill Mort and everyone he may have ever known if he doesn't fix the situation.       Mort hires a special investigator (Charles Dutton to locate Mr. Shooter and try to stop him.       Shooter begins affecting Mort and his life almost immediately, …
review by . January 26, 2009
Johnny Depp plays a strange character in this movie. I am not going into much detail on this review because I don't want to spoil the movie for anyone that intends on watching it. To give a brief summary Johnny Depp catches his wife cheating on him at the beginning of the movie and they separate and file for divorce. He is a successful author and is working on him next book when a man shows up at his front door and complains that he stole his story years ago. This man threatens and continues to …
review by . November 15, 2008
Secret Window
Back in 1990 Stephen King wrote a fairly forgettable short story in his "Four Past Midnight" collection (more widely known for the story 'The Langoliers') called "Secret Window, Secret Garden." Fourteen years later it comes to sighing, whispering life on the screen, portrayed with excellent acting and a very clean script.     Johnny Depp has morphed into a truly great actor, talented and versatile, and he brings Mort Rainey's quirky writer's personality into a fully fleshed out …
review by . November 17, 2008
This is a typical Stephen King story, well adapted for the big screen, and held together by the intriguing and extremely talented Johnny Depp. Depp plays Mort Rainey, author of a novel titled "Secret Window", who is suffering from writer's block, nicotine withdrawal symptoms and being nearly divorced from his wife (Maria Bello, looking the opposite of Coyote Ugly)     The title of this review has a triple translation. The first is because Mr. Depp is so good in it; the second …
review by . March 04, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) a writer in a remote house in upstate New York, encounters an "apparent" fan, a character named Shooter (John Turturro). Shooter has accused Mort of stealing his story and threatens to kill Mort and everyone he may have ever known if he doesn't fix the situation.     Mort hires a special investigator (Charles Dutton to locate Mr. Shooter and try to stop him.     Shooter begins affecting Mort and his life almost immediately, Mort's …
review by . February 04, 2005
Pros: Johnny Depp     Cons: .........     The Bottom Line: ______________     Well now.       Original storyline? No. Incredible delivery? Yes.       I won’t try to blow smoke up your bum, this would be just another Stephen King book brought to the screen in a mildly amusing manner if it wasn’t for Johnny Depp. It’s not like the story itself is original, although King adds his own whimsical …
review by . February 01, 2005
Secret Window, is listed as suspense rather than the usual horror label, an adaptation of a Stephen King story, "Secret Window, Secret Garden". But with a cast featuring Johnny Depp, John Tuturro and Charles Dutton, I thought this movie would be worth the effort. And it is, as far as the acting concerned, but the acting seriously outweighs the quality of the screenplay, which begins promisingly enough, but fails to deliver much in the way of ongoing suspense. However, there is an uneven tension …
review by . July 19, 2004
Pros: Johnny Depp - pretty scenery     Cons: The plot - the dialogue - could not be taken seriously     The Bottom Line: This should win a Golden Turkey Award. Bad story, bad acting, just all around a let down.     I am a fan of Johnny Depp. I enjoy his acting and seek out his films. He always brings a unique perspective to his work which I enjoy. I am also a big fan of John Turturro and have seen almost all of his films. Again, he brings …
About the reviewer
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #188
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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About this movie


Starring Johnny Depp, Maria Bello, John Turturro, Timothy Hutton
Directed by David Koepp
Writer:  David Koepp (screenplay) Stephen King (story)
Based on the short story "Secret Window, Secret Garden" by Stephen King

Product Description
Mort rainey a writer just coming off a troublesome divorce with his ex-wife amy finds himself stalked at his remote lake house by a psychotic stranger who claims mort stole his best story idea (changing just the ending). Based on a steven king novel: secret window secret garden. Studio: Sony Pictures Home Ent Release Date: 09/20/2005 Starring: Johnny Depp Maria Bello Run time: 96 minutes Rating: Pg13
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Director: David Koepp
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Release Date: March 12, 2004
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: June 22, 2004
Runtime: 1hr 46min
Studio: Columbia Pictures Corporation, Grand Slam Productions
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