The Secrets We Keep hooks you right from the get-go. A woman is playing with her child in the park, then becomes rattled by the sight of a man walking down the street. She momentarily leaves her kid to follow him. Who is this guy, and why does his presence unnerve her so? With that opening scene, the film earns our investment, making us want to know what's going to happen next. That trait carries all the way through to the knockout finale.
The woman is Maja (Noomi Rapace). She lives in a small town, post-WWII, with her husband Lewis (Chris Messina). The man (Joel Kinnaman) is Thomas, her neighbor. Maja is certain that he's “Karl,” the German soldier who brutalized her and killed her sister fifteen years prior. So certain, in fact, that she kidnaps him and holds him in the basement of her house. That's the basic premise of the film, which is freely revealed in the marketing material. What she hopes to accomplish by doing this is something I do not intend to reveal. Lewis, however, gets drawn into her scheme.
Crisply directed by Yuval Adler from a screenplay he co-wrote with Ryan Covington, The Secrets We Keep holds viewers in perpetual suspense. Thomas, of course, insists that Maja has the wrong person, that he's just an ordinary husband and father minding his own business. His pleas are convincing, yet so is her utter conviction about his guilt. Our allegiance goes back and forth for most of the running time. Finding a film that can generate such high-level suspense without chases, fight scenes, or the imminent threat of death is rare. Here's one that creates it via ideas and character development. It's a very intelligent picture, dealing with themes of trauma and vengeance, as well as the emotional need for culpability from the bad people of the world.
Noomi Rapace is absolutely phenomenal as Maja. She earns our empathy right off the bat. What's interesting about her performance is that it works on two levels. On one, if Maja is right, we want her to get the closure she desperately needs. On the other, if Maja is wrong, then she's gotten into a situation that will go all kinds of bad for her. We don't want that because we know she honestly believes she's nabbed a war criminal who grievously wronged her. Rapace lets the emotion pour right out of her in every scene. Nothing is held back in this powerhouse performance.
Kinnaman adds to the mystery, guaranteeing we're never sure if we can trust his character. Thomas is either a decent man in a perilous situation or a louse who will hurt Maja (or worse) if he gets free. In the middle of that tug of war is Messina, doing an excellent job conveying the horror of Lewis realizing what his wife has done, combined with the desire to believe her despite nagging doubts in the back of his head. Amy Seimetz has a supporting role as Thomas's worried wife, whom Maja unexpectedly befriends. In a few short scenes, the actress provides The Secrets We Keep with an extra sense of loss, as this woman wonders where her husband went.
My fear watching the movie was that it would screw up the ending by going in some over-the-top direction, or devolving into cheap action. Thankfully, that doesn't happen. The finale feels authentic and justified, giving us plenty to absorb afterward. The Secrets We Keep is a first-rate adult thriller dealing with real people, real issues, and the real consequences of one's actions.
out of four
The Secrets We Keep is rated R for strong violence, rape, some nudity, language and brief sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.