“You know, the only thing that matters is the ending. It’s the most important part of the story, the ending.” If this is to be believed, then Secret Window fails in its narrative department. The ending to the film is a big let-down, even when it had no reason to be that way. If it had ended 3 minutes earlier, then it would have been successful. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, and this ends up hurting the overall, finished film.
One day, while working on a novel, writer Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) has a man appear at his doorstep. The man (John Turturro), who introduces himself as John Shooter, claims that Mort stole his story, and published it under his own name. Shooter even brings Mort a copy of the story. Initially dismissing the man has an extortionist, Mort soon is forced to seriously consider the man as a threat, especially after the man begins taking action.
The man’s threats end up becoming serious and Mort seeks help in dealing with him. Mort goes to the sheriff and a private investigator, men who he soon begins to wonder if he can trust. He thinks that there may be a conspiracy of some sort against him, with one thing after another going wrong. Mort is also in the process of getting a divorce from his wife (Maria Bello). The film actually opens with a flashback of Mort finding his wife cheating on him.
Mort doesn’t seem to want to finalize the divorce though, despite the papers having been drawn up months before. Mort still wants to reconcile with her, a plot point that doesn’t really go anywhere. She even phones him up at one point and questions why things ended. “If the baby had survived, would things have been different?” She questions this, but it goes nowhere. Mort was too lost in his writing, we find out. She didn’t feel like she was important to him, but she still brings this point up. “Why?” is the question I end up asking.
I suppose the answer is to give us a reason to care for both her and Mort. Losing a child is a terrible thing, I’m sure, but even given the fact that they lost theirs, I couldn’t bring myself to care about them. Mort is a lazy person, more of a bum than a real writer, and he doesn’t make much effort to make us care about him. Even when his life is being threatened, it doesn’t seem like it would matter if he were to die. His life doesn’t seem to mean much, he doesn’t have anything to live for. He could die, and nobody would know or care.
Despite this, it’s hard to knock Depp’s portrayal of the character. Even if he isn’t a character we necessarily like, he is still interesting. The little nuances that he has make him this way, and he is actually quite the funny character. There are some laughs scattered throughout, and they help to liven the mood. All of them come from Depp, whose comedic timing is perhaps the one reason the jokes work.
For thriller, however, the film doesn’t quite hold up. There are certainly moments of brilliance, especially near the conclusion, but the middle portion of the film gets kind of boring. The story, the one of a man wanting revenge for the plagiarism of his story, ends up being more boring than it should be, never having the suspense required to continue viewing or caring about it.
If you get through to the last 20 or so minutes, though, the film does take off. The final act, sans the very end, are great. It has intensity, emotional depth and have been foreshadowed enough to make the audience feel like they should have seen it coming. You won’t though, or at least, not entirely.
The film’s twist is one that will surprise, yet not startle. It changes your perspective on the previous events, but also feels familiar in a way. It’s like you could have seen it coming, but didn’t because you didn’t want to. There’s an odd feeling that I got after the film concluded–or where I believe it should have concluded. It wasn’t a feeling of sorrow, hope or confusion, but more one of “I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.”
Secret Window is a watchable film that ends up falling flat right near the end. The part where I think the film should have ended would have left a great sense of mystery surrounding what had happened earlier in the film. Sometimes, you don’t need everything blatantly explained to you, something that happens in the film’s actual ending. I wish that the additional scene would have been removed, because the film’s conclusion might have felt satisfactory if it has. As it is, it was disappointing.
If you can get past the second act of Secret Window, the last 20 minutes or so will be quite a thrill ride. It’s just too bad that it takes too long to get to this point, riddled with plot points that you won’t care about. The characters are interesting, yet unlikable, and the ending is an incredible disappointment. It’s watchable, and it can give some entertainment, but there are definitely better thrillers out there. Depp is a good actor giving his character lots of life, and the final plot twist is a good one, so if that is all you need in a thriller, then go ahead and watch Secret Window. You might be glad you did.