- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

Johnny Depp seems an odd choice to anchor a Stephen King adaptation. Then again, who would have guessed that Mr. Depp would star in a summer film based on a Disney theme park attraction?

The actor’s winning streak, which began in earnest with his Oscar-nominated turn in last year’s “Pirates of the Caribbean,” steams full-speed ahead with “Secret Window.”

Adapted from Mr. King’s novella, “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” the film is one of the best King-inspired projects in ages, a horror story with little bloodshed, a psychological profile that never panders. Indeed writer-director David Koepp’s haunting direction gives “Window” a sense of foreboding that far exceeds that evoked by the original pulp fiction.

Any fears of yet another failed King movie adaptation are dispelled with the film’s opening scene: Mr. Koepp’s camera catches writer Mort Rainey (Mr. Depp) surprising his wife (Maria Bello) in flagrante delicto in a way that stamps the infidelity in our minds.

Six months later, Rainey is a disheveled recluse fighting a losing battle with writer’s block. A knock on his door rouses him from his stupor. A stranger with a Mississippi drawl (John Turturro) accuses Rainey of stealing one of his stories and demands justice. Rainey shrugs him off as just another obsessed fan. The man soon returns to throw a few not-so-idle threats at Rainey. He’s not going anywhere until he hears what he wants to hear.

Bad things start to happen, as any fan of Mr. King can quickly predict, and even Rainey’s loyal mutt isn’t immune.

If the stranger isn’t distracting enough, Rainey still pines for his ex-wife, who’s found some normalcy with her new beau (Timothy Hutton, who starred in 1993’s underrated King adaptation, “The Dark Half”).

At best, “Secret Window” should have been a glorified “Twilight Zone” episode, especially given the act three twist that ties up all the loose ends. Mr. Koepp’s literate screenplay throws more than a few credible feints our way to keep us off balance, and his script’s humor evolves from unexpected sources.

Mr. Depp does the rest.

The actor hardly needs fresh accolades, given the love fest that 2003 became thanks to “Pirates” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.”

But “Window” wouldn’t generate anywhere near the pathos it does with anyone else playing the emotionally shellshocked writer. We’ll even forgive him for the few scenes where his craft peeks through, like when he broadly adjusts his jaw in times of duress.

Mr. Koepp’s “Window” dares us to care about some less than appealing characters. Miss Bello’s Amy is as manipulative as Rainey is depressed, and the town sheriff (Len Cariou) makes “The Simpsons’” Chief Wiggins look like Columbo by comparison.

He’ll save the day as soon as he finishes his needlepoint.

“Secret Window” amplifies Mr. King’s knack for getting under our skin without succumbing to the author’s baser instincts.

Suddenly, the thought of future King projects doesn’t seem nearly so frightening.

***

WHAT: “Secret Window”

RATING: PG:13 (Thriller-style violence and gore, harsh language and sexual situations)

CREDITS: Written and directed by David Koepp from a novella by Stephen King. Produced by Gavin Polone. Original music by Philip Glass and Geoff Zanelli.

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sonypictures.com /movies/secretwindow/cms/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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