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Review: Creepy 'Window' shows Depp's depth

Stephen King-based film has good performances

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Secret Window
Johnny Depp plays a writer stalked by the mysterious John Turturro in "Secret Window."

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Johnny Depp
Stephen King

(CNN) -- It's easy to see why Johnny Depp, hot off his Oscar nomination for "Pirates of the Caribbean," chose "Secret Window" as his next film. His character, Mort Rainey, is in practically every frame of the movie -- and the movie is a great showcase for Depp's well-honed skills.

"Secret Window" is based on a Stephen King novella, "Secret Window, Secret Garden." Rainey is a successful author who is currently going through a messy divorce from his wife, Amy, played by Maria Bello. He's also suffering from a severe case of writer's block.

Holed up in a dirty cabin by a lake, Rainey sleeps away his depression on his living room couch, watched over by his mournful dog.

His idle existence is shattered one day by a knock at his door. Standing there is a mysterious stranger with a laconic drawl and a large black hat. Played by John Turturro, his name is John Shooter, and he accuses Rainey of plagiarizing a story he once wrote.

Despite Rainey's pleas of innocence, Shooter refuses to back down and becomes increasingly hostile, making alarming threats.

After finally seeing a copy of Shooter's story, Rainey is completely freaked out when his finds that the two pieces -- Rainey's is called "Secret Window" -- are extremely similar.

Adding to frustration

Secret Window
Drawn into the middle: Depp's character's ex-wife, played by Maria Bello, and her new boyfriend, played by Timothy Hutton.

His soon-to-be ex-wife is drawn into the fray, along with her new boyfriend, played by Timothy Hutton. This, of course, only adds to Rainey's sense of frustration.

In an act of desperation, Rainey turns to a private investigator, played by Charles S. Dutton, to help convince Shooter that Rainey hasn't stolen his story. The violence against Rainey -- and those around him -- soon escalates.

There's one more problem: no one but Rainey has ever seen Shooter, and Rainey must track down the mysterious man in order to convince everyone that Shooter exists.

Screenwriter/director David Koepp, who wrote "Spider-Man" and "Panic Room," has taken King's novella and created a tense drama with some surprising twists and turns.

His ear for dialogue is amazing. The characters sound real and natural. Some of the camera moves are also stunning: one shot comes through a mirror, winds throughout the cabin, and ends up outside in the driveway.

Maintaining the tension

Koepp also has the advantage of being a movie writer making a movie about a writer, so he knew his topic well. He penned the screenplay with Depp in mind, even traveling to the set of "Pirates" to convince the actor to sign on to the project.

It pays off: Depp is outstanding as the tormented, sometimes confused and often out-of-control writer. Depp likes his characters to have little quirks, and this time out is no exception -- he's chosen to wear his hair big, bushy, and half-brown and half-blond for this movie.

In fact, as he continually pulls on his locks, his hair becomes a character in its own right. It should get its own billing -- above the title.

Turturro, who has had his share of strange roles, is excellent as Depp's foe in the mind-bending game of cat and mouse. He comes across as almost otherworldly, with an innate sense of menace and violence. Dutton, Hutton and Bello are also good in their supporting roles

But this is Depp's film from beginning to end, and he's fascinating to watch.

Overall, "Secret Window" is a nice ride. It's just spooky enough to keep your attention, the acting is excellent, and the major twist at the end comes from out of the blue.

"Secret Window" opens nationwide on Friday, March 12, with a rating of PG-13.

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