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Laramie Movie Scope:
Secret Window

A creepy psychological thriller

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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March 13, 2004 -- “Secret Window” is another in a new breed of neo-psychological thrillers which have appeared in recent years, inheritors of a legacy that goes back to “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and “Psycho.” This one is so creepy it had me squirming in my seat. I could compare it to some recent movies of the same genre, but I'd be giving away the ending, not that it is that hard to guess.

Johnny Depp (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) stars as Mort Rainey, an author living in a remote cabin in New England (of course it is based on a Stephen King book), who is suffering from bouts of depression and alcoholism while in the process of going through a painful divorce from his wife, Amy (Maria Bello of “The Cooler”). Early in the film we see a traumatic scene where Rainey catches his wife in bed with another man, Ted (Timothy Hutton of “Sunshine State”). Rainey's main problem seems to be a persistent writing block and lethargy as the film opens, but soon, another problem appears. A mysterious stranger named John Shooter (John Turturro of “Anger Management”) appears at his door, accusing Rainey of plagiarism. He tells Rainey he wants credit for the story of the Secret Window, which he says Rainey stole from him. He threatens Rainey with retaliation unless Rainey gives Shooter proper credit for the story.

The dispute between Rainey and Shooter spirals out of control into madness and violence. Dead bodies start to pile up. The local police can find no trace of the mysterious killer. Rainey calls in his high-priced literary agent, Ken Karsch (Charles Dutton of “Against the Ropes”) to deal with the situation, but Shooter remains illusive as ever. The local sheriff, (played by Len Cariou of “About Schmidt”), can't figure out what is going on.

One of the reasons the film is so effective is because it plays tricks with the expectations of the audience. Writer-director David Koepp (“Stir of Echoes”) knows the genre well. He knows how to build suspense, but just when you think you know what is going to happen next, he puts a different spin on things. The result is, the film keeps you squirming. You know the hatchet is going to fall, but you don't know when or how. The film uses standard genre set ups to make you think a killing is going to take place, and then something else happens, but the suspense is drawn out as far as it can go up until that point. The film's ending is probably its weakest point. The story doesn't make a lot of sense, either from a practical murder mystery or psychological point of view, but the journey up until that point is fascinating.

The acting in the film is also superb, led by the matchless Depp, who is an expert in portraying quirky characters. Turturro is also very good as the menacing Shooter. This creepy character feels like it comes straight out of a Coen brothers film, and Turturro has starred in several of those. Bello, Dutton and Hutton provide strong supporting characters. This is a film with so few characters that it would sink without quality actors. The strong performances are what keep the improbable plot afloat. The actors really sell the characters and their story. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)