More than a decade after The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace still hasn't satisfied her appetite for revenge.
The Swedish actress stars in Yuval Adler's The Secrets We Keep (in theaters now, on VOD Oct. 16), a psychological thriller with neither the psychological honesty nor the real thrills of the film franchise that gave the actress her breakout moment. Here she plays Maja, a Romanian immigrant who met her doctor husband, Lewis (Chris Messina), when he was stationed in an army hospital in Greece after World War II. With their young son, Patrick, the couple live in a small unnamed town where business is booming at Lewis' medical practice — in part thanks to the recent opening of a refinery nearby. Maja's world is shaken when she spots one of its new workers, Thomas (Joel Kinnaman), around town. After confirming her suspicions by spying on him at his house, she pretends her car is broken down on his way home from work, then hits him in the head when he stops to help her and stuffs him in her trunk.
After informing her incredulous husband that there is an adult man tied up in the back of her car, Maja explains her behavior: She recognized him as one of the Nazis who caught her and her sister toward the end of the war and performed disturbing abuses upon them before killing Maja's sister. Lewis is shocked by this news about his wife of many years, whom he had previously believed never saw so much as a frown during WWII. But he promptly becomes her accomplice, helping her tie Thomas (whom she remembers as Karl) up in their basement, even as he questions her memory — and her methods of getting him to confess.
Rapace and Messina are as committed as anyone could wish them to be, but there's no saving much of their dialogue, nor making sense of their poorly established relationship in Adler and Ryan Covington's script. (Rapace is credible and intense as a victim finally allowing herself to confront her pain, but Messina might even have the tougher job, as ambivalently as Lewis is written.) Amy Seimetz, too, lends much greater sincerity to her role, as Thomas' distraught wife, than exists on the page; her deft navigation of some particularly heavy-handed, exposition-laden dialogue is genuinely admirable work.
The drama takes place in the late '50s, which we know thanks to the wardrobe, a movie theater marquee, and the oft-repeated information that the war had ended about 15 years prior. It's necessary to have these markers of the era, because the characters and attitudes do little to give the film a sense of time or place otherwise; one conversation between medical professionals regarding a woman's psychological state efficiently betrays the decade in which the film was made rather than the one in which it takes place. It also feels like a missed opportunity not to allow the severity of the period to meaningfully contribute to the tension — there have been entire movies about '50s housewives cracking under the pressure to maintain a smiling façade even without the added stress of confronting their long-buried trauma by torturing potential Nazis in their basement. Where is that energy?
At worst, it feels like the film clumsily tries to tap into modern concerns about believing women when they give voice to their trauma, which would be pretty gross; at best, giving the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, it's just a little distasteful and highly contrived. There are no interesting insights or questions raised here about evil and redemption, love and loyalty, reclaiming one's self or escaping one's past — there's only the question of whether Thomas is actually Karl, and how Maja and Louis can take care of this whole situation and go back to their pleasant life together.
Those answers are predictable, but at least somewhat satisfying. For the most part, though, these secrets aren't worth passing along. C-