Adaptation is a difficult process. It’s a translation, of sorts – a reinterpretation of idea into form – and in film is almost always a losing prospect. There are simply too many minds, too many eyes, spying for a place in the ultimate vision, and as a single idea passes from writer, to screenwriter, to director, to actor, the end product is rarely as pure as its initial conception. Sometimes, however, this dangerous game of telephone plays out beautifully, resulting in a film that somehow improves upon its origin.
Such is what happens when great minds think differently.
From Stephen King – who crafted the novella – to writer/director David Koepp – whose faithful adaptation added both humor and suspense – to actor Johnny Depp – whose performance here is as nuanced and believable as any delivered thusfar, Secret Window is one of those rare occasions where the final film is greater than the sum of its parts, with each particular vision helping, rather than hindering, the final product. And while the film may be far from perfect, Secret Window offers a well-acted and tautly-directed thriller of substantial depth and character.
The dramatic story of a writer battling demons both within and without is not without its own sense of predictability, and for the perceptive filmgoer, the ending is there from the very beginning. And while the eventual payoff seems only appropriate for the movie it concludes, the pervading sense of its own possibility somehow dampens the desired effect. Fortunately, however, this is the film’s only significant flaw, leaving the space in-between rich with first-rate performance and direction.
It seems fashionable these days to look at Johnny Depp as if he’s just entered the proverbial room, but that, of course, would be to discard nearly two decades worth of truly notable character work. Secret Window is no exception. Once again, Depp illustrates that an effective actor is an invisible one, falling gracefully into the tattered clothing of the conflicted Mort Rainey, with every line, gesture and physical tick perfectly delivered to create a character that is so much deeper than the script might otherwise suggest. Acting, after all, is fifty-percent erasure and fifty-percent design, leaving Depp as the ever-familiar stranger on screen. All of which makes the potentially predictable ending that much more enjoyable to get around to.
As a writer, Koepp also continues to master his work, having turned King’s lackluster novella into a tense thriller with honest moments of both drama and comedy. But it is rather as a director that Koepp continues to excel, having crafted a visual style that is as graceful as it is absent. The term “Hitchcockian” is far too loosely thrown around in these modern cinematic times but seems somewhat deserved here, with Koepp’s camera continually seeking an inventive angle or fluid movement to create the film’s suspense. There is no cheating here. Each shot is honest, purposeful and entirely focused on furthering the action of the film. The opening shots alone are enough to establish Koepp’s presence as a maturing director.
Also of note is John Turturro as the film’s villain, Shooter, with an eerily deadpan delivery that brings to mind the preacher Cain from the uber-creepy Poltergeist sequels.
Overall, Secret Window is one of the more enjoyable thrillers of the past several years, boasting some terrific performances by Depp and Turturro and cementing Koepp as a filmmaking force to watch. And despite its tendency to spill its secrets somewhat too early, this is one window that audiences should look through again and again and again.