The Secrets We Keep Movie Review: A brilliant Noomi Rapace heads an average, often predictable narrative
A fifty-fifty film with great acting and a below-par storyline
The Secrets We Keep is a character-driven film that hinges on an intense and superlative performance from Noomi Rapace. And while her acting (and the rest of the cast’s) is the standout, it is the script that leads to its undoing. Not to say that it is unwatchable by any means; it holds you for the most part, but the sense of predictability and the absence of enough going on invariably creep in.
The resurfacing of deeply buried trauma from one’s past has been attempted many times in cinema, so the subject being explored isn’t new. It is, more often than not, an entity from the individual’s former years, that leads to a rush of old, unwelcome memories. Maja (Rapace) - a Romanian who managed to survive World War II and now lives a quiet life in small-town America with her doctor husband and young son – is faced with a similar dilemma. The image of a tall man walking down the street triggers flashes from a past she has successfully buried for a number of years. She suffers from severe insomnia and occasional night terrors, but the reason for them has remained unexplained.
Of course, her unsuspecting husband has been kept in the dark (for his own protection, and hers, supposedly). The usual exclamations of “How could you not tell me this before?” and “This explains the nightmares” follow. The shock he exhibits when realises his wife has held on to a carefully constructed narrative of her past, is rather predictable, and so is his reaction to her abducting a man she considers to be one of her former tormentors. The scenes play out as you would imagine. You can see the wheels turning over and over again in his mind – is it her fragile mental state playing tricks again, how could she remember a face so vividly from fifteen years ago?
Director – Yuval Adler
Cast – Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Chris Messina
Though highly believable for the most part thanks to the excellent acting all round, The Secrets We Keep suffers from being too similar to counterparts from years gone by. The story follows a linear trajectory and doesn’t offer enough in its moments of conflict. We feel Maja’s pain and her desperate need for closure, but more is perhaps expected from her backstory. We know the gist of what took place on that horrific night through her fragmented memories, and that is the source of all the film’s conflict, but how about Thomas (Kinnaman)? Between the scenes of violent interrogation, consistent denial, and sudden flashbacks, there is something clearly missing. What that something is, is hard to place a finger on. It could be anything from better conflict resolution to the enhanced exploration of the conflict itself.
It is unfortunate that an average screenplay puts a dampener on an intense acting display led by Rapace. Despite the many shortcomings of the story, her character is fabulously portrayed. The obsessive way in which she stalks the man (forgetting about her current life completely, in the bargain) is something to behold. She stares blankly back as she lies to her husband about forgetting to pick up their son from school because she had lost track of time; even the blasé nature of her response (as her mind is elsewhere, plotting) is so real and powerful.
Predictability apart, certain premises in the film are downright unrealistic. How would one of the lead character’s Nazi tormentors from years ago end up on the parallel street to hers, in a foreign country, for instance? Ironically, it is her incredulous husband who confronts her with the very same question as the story plays out.
Though the focus falls mostly on Noomi Rapace, and to a lesser extent, Joel Kinnaman, Chris Messina’s role as the husband stuck between a rock and a hard place is worthy of a mention. He negotiates that tight rope of whether to be a supportive husband and go along with everything his wife is doing or whether to question her sanity and seek intervention, in an understated, believable manner.
The Secrets We Keep is a hard film to review because its acting is right up there while the writing is most definitely below par; the two key aspects needed for a good film widely divergent here. If you choose to stay invested in the central character’s past and present life, it may be easier to forgive the questionable parts of the narrative. A fifty-fifty sort of toss-up, but watch it for the brilliant Noomi Rapace.