Film Reviews


By • Mar 12th, 2004 •

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Columbia Pictures / A Pariah production
Running time — 96 minutes / MPAA rating: PG-13

I haven’t read the Stephen King novella director David Koepp adapted. As we all know, King is cinematic hit or miss. Here, Koepp and star Johnny Depp craft a highly enjoyable thriller with, I assume, enough clues to satisfy audiences that they were let in on the twist – if they were paying close attention.

I only caught one word that clued me in that something was amiss.

Here is what you know from seeing the trailer: Successful writer Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) is accused by a weird stranger in a big-brimmed black hat named John Shooter (John Turturro) of stealing his story. Shooter says he will do anything to make right Rainey’s plagiarism. Rainey, living in an isolated cabin outside New York City, has a lot to fear from an obviously vengeful Shooter who demands Rainey publicly admit to the plagiarism or rewrite the ending exactly the way Shooter wrote it. Apparently, Rainey published the story changing the ending.

Shooter is a “hick” from Mississippi and we do consider the possibility that Rainey may have “lifted” the short story and published it as his own. But how? We know why. Rainey is lazy and likes to drink. He sleeps a lot. He is suffering from writer’s block. He might have done some creative purloining in the past. (Even scholars, historians and Jayson Blair have admitted to “acquiring” other writer’s material to “enhance” their own work, so this story is rather newsworthy.) Rainey’s estranged wife Amy (Maria Bello) had an affair with Ted (Timothy Hutton) and is now living in their manor house in Westchester. Divorce papers have been drawn up but Rainey is reluctant to sign them. He wants Amy back. Then Shooter turns up making threats. Rainey enlists detective Ken Karsch (Charles D. Dutton) to again take care of one of his “obsessed” fans.

Koepp provides enough psychological insight to draw us into the story. All the characters are well drawn. Koepp takes his time developing the complicated Rainey. It is a credit to Koepp and Depp that we do not exactly trust Rainey’s integrity. Depp’s interest in his character is apparent. He is fully present and engaged in the story. Since it is impossible to go any further discussing the story, it is now time to discuss Depp’s hairdo. It is distracting. Fine that it is all messed up and Rainey just doesn’t care. But the crown of multi-colored hair constantly falling into his face has a presence all its own. When Rainey finally combs it, I was relieved. An actor should not rely on his hair as an acting prop.

King has mined the writer-in-personal-peril before in “Misery” and “The Shining,” and there are striking similarities. Koepp adds further dimensions: A terrific soundtrack by Philip Glass, regard for the sexual betrayal as a jumping off point, and haunting flashbacks that give the apparently peaceful Rainey a menacing backdrop.

Writer-director: David Koepp
Based on novella by: Stephen King
Producer: Gavin Polone
Executive producer: Ezra Swerdlow
Director of photography: Fred Murphy
Production designer: Howard Cummings
Music: Philip Glass
Costume designer: Odette Gadoury
Editor: Jill Savitt

Mort Rainey: Johnny Depp
Shooter: John Turturro
Amy Rainey: Maria Bello
Ted Milner: Timothy Hutton
Ken Karsch: Charles S. Dutton
Sheriff Newsome: Len Cariou

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