Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #28--Secret Window (2004)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

"We're obsessed with deliveries and packages and magazines in this movie." Director David Koepp

"You stole my story."
In Secret Window, Johnny Depp plays a divorced and depressed author, Mort Rainey, who is accused by a Southern dairy farmer, John Shooter (John Turturro), of stealing his short story. He wants him to "fix the ending." This premise made me laugh: It's a thriller about plagiarism! Director David Koepp sells it better, "It's the ultimate writer's nightmare that some crazy character comes along and not only accuses you of plagiarism but forces you to do a rewrite!" As anticlimactic as that sounds, I was intrigued by this movie's enticing ingredients:
  • If anyone can make this story interesting, Johnny can. 
  • David Koepp recently directed Panic Room, another thriller I really like.   
  • Secret Window's fantastic supporting cast, includes John Turturro and Charles S. Dutton--both of whom have worked with Johnny before--and  Maria Bello and Timothy Hutton--who haven't. Timothy Hutton has held a place in my heart since I was a kid when I saw his Oscar-winning performance in Ordinary People. Now, whenever I see him elsewhere, I think, "'s Timothy Hutton..." (If you see that movie, you will do the same.) 
  • Secret Window is based on Stephen King's short story, "Secret Window, Secret Garden." While some movies based on Stephen King stories are awful, some are fantastic. In this case, of course, I leaned toward the latter!

I tried to avoid seeing anything about the movie until it was released, but a photograph caught my eye of Johnny on the set doing what looked to me like some sort of silly walk down the street next to Timothy Hutton. (I wish I could find that photo!) I thought,"Awww, it's Timothy Hutton," and instantly couldn't wait to see them work together. Whatever happens, it'll be okay!

Heeere's Johnny! 
Inevitably, this movie was compared to other Stephen King movies about authors (The Shining, Misery) by all the critics. I see why, but I think this one's got its own Johnny Charm. One of the many things I love about Johnny's movies is that he always makes them his own: He adds his sense of humor no matter how intense the scene, he comes up with ideas that no one else would ever think of, and he gives looks that without a word say so much. If you're a Johnny fan, this movie is for you because he is in practically every scene and, most of the time, he's by himself. (He is a writer, after all.) That's one aspect that attracted Johnny to the part: "It's always great to get in the ring with actors you respect, but when you're in there by yourself, it's quite challenging. You're not reacting, which is mostly what acting is," he explains. "Instead, you have to just be. There are scenes where it's like 2 minutes of just scratching the tablecloth. That interests me." David Koepp has a different theory: "I'm not really sure why he wanted to do it. I'm grateful, but it's hard to be certain of what motivates Johnny. It's possible he just wanted to play a character named Mort." I believe both.   

My favorite part of this movie is the first 2 1/2 minutes, not just because it opens on a close-up of Johnny's face but because his face is angry and you don't know why. You don't know where he is. You don't know what's happened or what's going to happen. And, when it does happen, you understand everything and you're in it.

I can't imagine anyone else but Johnny playing Mort Rainey. I may have laughed when I read the plot, but I also think Johnny is a perfect fit for it. Johnny attributes the well-written script by David Koepp as hooking him on the story: "The dialogue is real. It's not forced. The dialogue is just very train-of-thought. The situation seemed real and ugly. Reading a little further, I got to the point where I had total emotional investment in this guy, in this character of Mort, and the situation." 

I had a good feeling about this one too, and Johnny didn't disappoint. It's true, I'd be happy to watch Johnny sit and stare off into space. (And, playing a writer, he actually does some of that in this movie.) But I find his performance pretty fascinating in Secret Window. Director David Koepp had Johnny in mind to play Mort while he was writing the script. "Johnny's just one of our most gifted actors, period,"he says, noting Johnny's endless input into his character. "What I like about his ideas is that you're not sure if he's kidding or not at first because they're off the wall. But then they make perfect sense and you wouldn't have it any other way. He's not an actor who does what he's told. he's an actor who takes what he's been asked to do and runs it through his brain and then does it. And that's a wonderful gift because he's got a marvelous twisted brain!"

"The degree of bedhead was a major consideration in this movie."
David Koepp
It can't be easy to act in a room by yourself in most scenes with nothing but your thoughts and your dog to keep you company. "The great thing about him in this movie is that he's so inventive," David Koepp says. "He makes napping relatively interesting to watch."

Johnny spends the majority of the movie in a raggedy bathrobe thinking about sleeping, sleeping, or just waking up from sleeping. It's quite entertaining! "Most good actors have pretty strong ideas about how they should look for a part and he certainly does," David Koepp says. "The bathrobe he immediately sparked to and wanted to wear for the whole movie. I got it down to not quite the whole movie."    

I'm not telling. 
I can't say much about this movie because I'll ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it. If you've been reading my Johnny Kitties posts, you probably know by now that I have no tolerance for scary movies, not even some PG-13 thrillers. The idea of Johnny being in a Stephen King movie worried me just for that reason. While I watched some of Secret Window peeking through my fingers, I realize that, to most people, it's probably not scary at all. Some even thought it was predictable, but I fell for everything.

At times, though, even I wish this movie was scarier. I wish Johnny and John Turturro could just go at each other in an R-rated sort of way, but the studio insisted that the film be PG-13 because of Johnny's devoted teenage audience. By the end, I felt that this movie teetered into TV Movie of the Week territory--not because it's bad, but because it includes the cliche of the screaming girl who always trips and can't start her car. I hate that. Do guys ever have that problem when they're in a jam?

But that's a minor annoyance in a movie that, for me, is mysterious and really interesting to watch. Like Johnny, I love the interactions and dialogue among the characters. Although Johnny and Timothy Hutton play rivals in the movie, they created some of my favorite scenes. And, John Turturro is a creepy stranger! "What you think you're going to get from Stephen King material is not what you actually do," David Koepp says. "What you get is extremely well developed characters and really well thought-out psychology. All of the main characters were very well developed and had really clear psychological needs." Stephen King even gave David Koepp his stamp of approval: "I like your script, man. Everyone in it's a rat bastard."

If that doesn't convince you to check out Secret Window, there's also some great animal acting from Mort's blind dog Chico, a mouse, and a squirrel. Hands down, the squirrel wins the Oscar.

Shhh, the Kitty is sleeping.
In this movie, Mort takes lots of naps, and Gordon was all for that idea! So, for our Secret Window tribute, here's one of the naps, during which Mort dreams of napping. That is, until he rolls off the couch and falls over a cliff. He awakes on his living room floor. We've all been there, right?

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #28--Secret Window (2004) [September 23, 2012]

TV Break: How about a stretch?
A fan of Mike Judge's cartoon series, "King of the Hill," Johnny voiced a character in the episode called, "Hank's Back," which aired in May of 2004, a couple of months after the release of Secret Window. I had never watched a full episode of "King of the Hill" until this one, so I'm not familiar with the storyline and characters. But, in this episode, the show's main character Hank hurts his back and is advised to go to yoga class. Johnny is the yoga instructor. (Can you believe it? Why doesn't he show up in my yoga classes?)

What's next? 
Johnny plays another American in Paris for Ils se marierent et eurent beaucoup, or ....And They Lived Happily Ever After. (My review will not be in French.)

All film images © Columbia Pictures; Melissa's Kitties illustration © Melissa Connolly; "King of the Hill" illustration © Mike Judge  

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