There is a lot of talk about Johnny Depp’s performances of late. About how they fall into two catagories: The serious roles like Donnie Brasco and Blow, and “turns” like The Pirates movies, Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland, etc. Recently, people seem to be falling out of love with his turns, if not the great man himself. Especially the much hated The Lone Ranger with his take on Toto. But I think people are forgetting how hugely entertaining his over the top performances can be. Or maybe we’re just getting too many of them.
Anyway, on paper Secret Window should certainly fall into the catagory of Serious Johnny Depp. He plays Mort Rainey, a successful author who’s wife left him six months previously for another man. He now spends his time at his log cabin the woods, failing to write anything new and talking to his dog. Then up pops a southern drawling John Turturro claiming that Depp has stolen one of his stories word for word and he wants what is due to him, else he will get revenge on him one way or another.
So we have a classic thriller set up, but this is based on a Stephen King novel so things are never quite what they seem. It also has that attention for detail that King has in his stories so well: the small town mentality, the self destructive writer (something King really knows about) and an understanding of the nature of a marraige. The scenes between Depp and his ex wife (Maria Bello, fantastic as always*) are bristling with tension and underlying anger, made all the more amazing by the fact that they are often done over the phone. Also John Turturro makes for one creepy son-of-a-bitch, dressed in black with his high pilgrim hat he echoes Robert Mitchem’s preacher in Night of the Hunter, always a good thing.
But this is Johnny Depp’s film and rather than being serious Johnny he goes for one of his turns. He’s constantly gurning and talking to inanimate objects, at one point he even comedy walks into a glass door. It’s kind of odd. You would think that a thriller based on a Stephen King story would need a straight performance from its leading man, but for some reason, Depp playing it quite off-kilter really elevates the material. Maybe because the story might be a bit bog standard if he wasn’t going for it. It is nicely shot, tightly directed and isn’t over long, but it might just be a tad too unoriginal and maybe even a little dull if it wasn’t for Depp lighting up the screen whenever he’s on it. And he’s on it a lot, he’s in pretty much every scene. In fact a large chunk of the film is just him banging around his cabin by himself. And its a testament to his screen presence that sometimes when you have a great actor, that can be all you need.
*Except The Mummy 3. Poor Maria, what was anyone thinking? Casting a blonde, very American, American as Rachel Weiss? Madness I tell you.