THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"SECRET WINDOW"

Great Movies Based on Stephen King Stories - Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption

Good Movies Based on Stephen King Stories - The Dead Zone, Carrie, Misery, Hearts in Atlantis, The Green Mile, Dolores Claiborne

Bad Movies Based on Stephen King Stories - Dreamcatcher, The Mangler, The Night Flyer, Thinner, Needful Things, Sleepwalkers, The Lawnmower Man, Graveyard Shift, Pet Sematary, Maximum Overdrive, Catís Eye

This is obviously not a complete list; in part, Iíve left off movies like The Shining that divided viewers so strongly. Still, I bet you can see a pattern here. Itís no secret that Kingís unique style of storytelling rarely translates well to the big screen. Iíve always felt that this was because filmmakers donít necessarily understand the authorís appeal. Itís not the horrific premises, or the scary moments, or the shock value. No, what makes King so popular is the vibe he brings to a tale. No one tells a story quite the way he does. Thereís a very specific combination of plotting and attitude that makes his work stand apart, just as it draws a reader in. Iíve read many of Kingís works over the years and thatís always what appeals to me more than anything else.

When I first saw the preview for Secret Window, I didnít even recognize it as being a Stephen King story (it is one of four novellas in the book ďFour Past MidnightĒ). Then again, the preview was somewhat misleading; I thought it was a horror movie. In actuality, this is a very subtle type of suspense film that has been adapted by writer/director David Koepp (who also wrote Panic Room).

Johnny Depp plays writer Mort Rainey. Ever since finding his wife Amy (Maria Bello) in a motel bed with another man six months prior, Mortís life has gone into a tailspin. He holes himself up in a little cabin out in the woods. Most of his day is spent napping or finding other excuses to avoid the fact that heís got writerís block. One afternoon, a strange man knocks on the door. The guy, John Shooter (John Turturro), claims that Mort plagiarized one of his stories. Mort doesnít believe it until he reads Shooterís writing. It rings a bell. He digs up a short story he had published in a book years ago. What he finds is nearly identical to Shooterís tale. As the film goes on, we learn that itís possible Mort may have somewhat of a checkered past when it comes to copying the work of others.

Iím leaving out some very specific plot points and will continue to do so. What you need to know is that Shooter threatens Mort over the issue, and before long people start turning up dead. The questions are: Who exactly is this Shooter guy? Did Mort really steal his story? Or was he hired by Amyís boyfriend Ted (Timothy Hutton) to harass Mort into signing the divorce papers?

Iíll admit right now that the plot twist in Secret Window took me by surprise. Iím not sure why I didnít see it coming; a similar plot twist has been used by at least two other recent movies I can think of. Even so, I was caught off guard. Itís kind of nice to have one of these work for a change, because they so rarely do. A lot of movies use ďsurpriseĒ developments simply to twist themselves into a pretzel. Consequently those movies donít make a lot of sense. They seem dishonest. Secret Window, in contrast, uses its surprise not to pull the rug out from under you but to further develop its real theme. This is not a story about murders or terror; itís about a guy struggling to put his life back together after his wifeís betrayal. I admire the fact that the film didnít cop out. Itís about something more than just hitting pre-established ďscare beats.Ē

That goes for the ending too. Iíd never dream of spoiling it, but I will say that the ending is not cheap. One of the things Shooter keeps saying about his own story is that ďthe ending is the most important part.Ē Thatís true of the film as a whole. After gaining our interest, it would have been simple for the ending to cop out, but it doesnít. The very last shot, in particular, is a wonderfully demented little coda that hits just the right note.

Johnny Depp is extremely well cast in the role of Mort Rainey. Whatís great about Depp is that heís always interesting. The choices he makes on how to play a character are unique, and they keep you watching. In this case, he gives Mort an underlying hostility toward his wife and her lover than manifests itself in a somewhat morbid sense of humor. The actor also adopts a physical appearance (including body language) that suggests, but doesnít beat you over the head with, an inner desperation the character doesnít want to deal with. Thereís probably no movie that wouldnít be improved by Deppís participation.

As a whole, Secret Window fits into the realm of ďgoodĒ movies based on Stephen King books. Itís more ambitious than the majority of movies in its genre, yet itís not anything that will likely rock your world. The best King movies linger on in the mind. You remember the characters, the scenarios, and the emotions long after the picture is over. Iím sure you can remember the youthful bonding experiences of the boys in Stand By Me. Or the emerging friendship between convicts Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption. Thereís nothing in Secret Window that hits home to that degree. However, the film is absorbing and satisfying, just like a good old-fashioned page-turner of a novel.

( out of four)


Secret Window is rated PG-13 for violence/terror, sexual content, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.

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