Secret Window Review

Based on the short story by Stephen King, Secret Window concerns itself with a moderately successful writer by the name of Morton Rainey (Johnny Depp) who finds himself accused of plagiarism by a hostile stranger who goes by the name of John Shooter (John Turturro). Based out of his writer’s getaway cabin Mort finds the local Sheriff to be of no help, and once Shooter’s approach to the situation grows in severity Mort extends his wealth to a muscle man private eye from the city who comes down to help even the playing field. This however only makes Shooter angrier, but the real question is, did Mort plagiarise Shooter’s story?

Secret Window opens with a sequence depicting the moment when Mort discovers his wife in bed with another man at a local motel, bursting into their room enraged subsequent to struggling with his own inner voice. The main story takes place some six months after, but the ongoing divorce procedures factor heavily into the events which unfold as Mort struggles to play nice with his ex-wife and her new partner, even when it would seemingly only take a simple visit to their old house in order to collect the proof he requires for Shooter to get off his back. This aspect of the tale combined with the frequent hints dropped through both dialogue and behaviour that Mort has previously stolen another writer’s story helps keep the viewer interested in what is a quick paced mystery thriller.

Unfortunately tension is not developed elsewhere in quite the same fashion as the story, with Turturro’s portrayal of Shooter coming off as rather laboured and stereotyped, while the small town setting and isolated cabin in the woods are not nearly as restrictive and unsettling as they should be, particularly once Mort starts taking regular trips into the city. The film takes quite an interesting turn in its final act, one that is signposted if you know what you’re looking for, but still manages to hold a few surprises, none more so (assuming you’ve not read the short story that is) than the downbeat ending which goes against the grain in terms of a big Hollywood movie (and is quite satisfying).

Depp’s turn as Mort does the film a great deal of good, both in the ending where he delights and seems to relish the opportunity to break free of any constraints placed on him earlier and throughout the film as he plays a dishevelled, almost broken man trying to pick up the pieces prior to the accusations he finds himself facing. This character and Depp’s performance helps to sell the actions of a man whose first stop after the local Sheriff would be his publisher and lawyers, but instead his own insecurities pave the way for a more interesting ride that while never truly exciting or surprising the seasoned viewer, should make for a solid evening’s entertainment and proves interesting to pick apart on subsequent sittings.

The Disc

Presented in the correct 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio at 1080P and encoded in MPEG2, Secret Window is something of a mixed bag on Blu-ray Disc. Every now and then, mainly in brightly lit scenes be they outside against the blue sky or an interior shot with sun pouring through the window, the film does sparkle with crisp colours and abundant detail. These moments are however somewhat brief, given how the majority of the film is quite grimly lit or set at night, and it is here that fine detail appears crushed, with a soft, almost filtered look with for example Depp’s facial hair lacking definition and the varied textures of his cabin muted and poorly separated. This could be down to a soft focus in the photography, but even then the compression shows up poorly delineated colours in low contrast sequences, with film noise that on rare occasion can be distracting due to inconsistent grain patterns. Colours for the most part do appear accurate, and only scenes with contrasting areas show the occasional and very light edge enhancement, leaving this to be an only slightly above average transfer from the tail end of Sony’s MPEG2 codec era.

The audio options are plenty, with two uncompressed PCM 5.1 options (English and German) and a selection of Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes (including English) and subtitles (see the right side panel for full specs). Opting for the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix I found it to be clear and well separated across the front speakers but this being a low-on-action thriller the rears are only really brought into play for the occasional placed sound effect and the original score, which really cranks up in the final 10-15 minutes and does a good job in setting the mood.

At the time of release Secret Window was something of a rarity, a catalogue title with all the extras from the DVD release included. The most significant of these is a commentary by writer/director David Koepp who speaks throughout the duration of his film, giving a very technical scene specific commentary which breaks down the movie in terms of structure, writing and where he hopes the audience as in relation to the onscreen action. Pretty dry in tone, this is one you might like to dip in and out of or watch over a series of sittings, as it’s quite a slog to get through in one go despite having some interesting nuggets here and there.

4 deleted scenes (non-anamorphic 2.35:1) are largely superfluous with two scene extensions, a scene that would have broken the film’s focus and another that just isn’t necessary with a character not featured elsewhere. Optional commentary with Koepp is available on the first two scenes in which he basically explains why they were excised or shortened in the final cut.

3 featurettes (all 4:3) run for a total of just over an hour, with the first (“From Book To Film”, 19:07mins) introducing the film and characters via a series of on-set interviews with Koepp, Depp and Turturro along with some coverage of the casting process where Maria Bello and Timothy Hutton also contribute. The second featurette (“A Look Through It”, 29:41mins) will feel very familiar to anyone who’s listened to the commentary, as Koepp takes you through various scenes in the film and deconstructs them with much of the same information coming through only this time you get some behind-the-scenes footage and a little insight from the costume designer. The last featurette (“Secrets Revealed”, 14:02mins) looks at the film’s twist and specifically the point in the film when it unravels on screen. Once again it comes complete with some crossover from the commentary but is helped along with some footage from the set and some takes where they tried having Depp do Marlon Brando, Christopher Walken and Roman Polanski impressions.

4 animatics (non-anamorphic 2.35:1) allow you to see some basic 3D renderings of select scenes in the film, which is fine but really a split-screen or multi-angle option allowing you to compare them to final scenes in the movie would have made these more interesting to watch.

The above extras are all presented in standard definition and come with optional English, French, German, Dutch (commentary and video extras) and Korean (video extras only) subtitles.

Finally there is also a trailer for The Covenant and a Blu-ray trailer reel. Both are presented in 1080P.

6 out of 10
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