The Secrets We Keep

In an idyllic small town in the 1950’s, European Maja (Noomi Rapace, "Prometheus") is living the American dream with her American doctor husband Lewis (Chris Messina, "Birds of Prey") and their young son Patrick (Jackson Dean Vincent).  One beautiful day, as Maja takes her son to the park, she hears a unique whistle, one which makes her stop dead in her tracks.  She follows the very tall stranger (Joel Kinnaman, AMC's 'The Killing') and becomes convinced that this is the man who did unspeakable things during the war, things she’s never told Lewis about in “The Secrets We Keep.”

Laura's Review: B-

Written by Ryan Covington (with input from producer Rapace and director Yuval Adler of 2013's "Bethlehem") after witnessing an Auschwitz survivor’s resulting PTSD when an angry German began shouting in public, “The Secrets We Keep” is a thriller that keeps us guessing about Maja’s state of mind as well as the concept of vigilantism.  While the film’s trailer emphasizes the more lurid aspects of the film (kidnapping, torture, war crimes), Adler’s execution is far more thoughtful, using the character of Lewis as a stand-in for the audience – until he doesn’t, surprising us.

As Maja’s suspicions grow, Adler uses over-the-shoulder tracking shots of her stalking the man, who has a wife and young children. The marquee boasting “North by Northwest” adds to this part of the film’s Hitchcockian feel.  Then Maja actually acts, setting herself up by the side of the road as a breakdown outside of her quarry’s place of work.  He stops, offering to help, she wallops him across the head and trundles him into her trunk.  She’s got a grave waiting, but once she’s rolled him into it, she finds she cannot shoot.  Back in her own kitchen, Maja tells her husband of her wartime experiences, where as a Roma ‘unspeakable things were done to the women’ and where her younger sister, Milya, was killed, for the first time.  She then informs Lewis that the man who committed these crimes is currently in their car’s trunk.  He is soon tied to a chair in their basement, the man Maja calls Karl insisting his name is Thomas, that he is Swiss and spent the war years in Switzerland.

Adler wisely doesn’t focus on basement interrogations, Lewis launching his own, exterior investigations including into his wife’s behavior.  There is a nosy neighbor, Jim (Jeff Pope, “Assassination Nation”), who, hearing a scream, brings not only Officer Brouwer (David Maldonado, "Greyhound") to Maja’s door, but the missing man’s wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz, "Pet Semetary").  Note that classically Jewish name...

Rapace, whose father was half Romani, has been beautifully made up to accentuate these features and costumed to stand out amidst all the Americana.  The actress is intense, her performance not the vengeance seeking missile one might presume, but one which is layered with other emotions like the survivor’s guilt she suffers over the death of Milya and the anxiety of sharing past trauma with her husband after years of avoiding it.  But it is Messina, whose initial expression of dumbfoundedness persists for a while, who is Adler’s secret weapon.  Lewis initially comes across as a bit of a milquetoast, terrified at the predicament his wife has plunged him into.  Some sharp writing and the actor’s simple command of a surprisingly effective questioning technique reveal a complexity complemented by the character’s profession. 

Yet despite that left field moment and Adler’s commitment to keeping things mixed up, “The Secrets We Keep” has the air of inevitability about it, no matter that the climax still manages to shock.  A coda brings us full circle with an all American Fourth of July celebration, now shaded by those kept secrets and a lingering unease.

Robin's Review: B-

It is late 1950s Middle America and Maja (Noomi Rapace), a former refugee from Nazi persecution, is making a happy new life with her doctor husband Lewis (Chris Messina) and their young son Patrick (Jackson Dean Vincent). That idyll comes to an end when she hears a man (Joel Kinneman) whistle for his dog in the park. That whistle, she knows, belongs to the man who caused her untold suffering and loss years before in “The Secrets We Keep.”

As I watched director and writer (with co-scribe Ryan Covington) Yuval Adler’s story of a woman’s vengeance against the man who devastated her life, I quickly came to the thought, “Death and the Maiden.” That was Roman Polanski’s 1994 film, starring Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley and Stuart Wilson, and it bears a striking resemblance to this new thriller. Then I discovered, later, “The Secrets…” is based on the ’94 screenplay and that makes perfect sense.

Noomi Rapace is the powerhouse that drives Maja’s story, which is shown in brief yet graphic flashbacks as she remembers the harrowing night that shattered her very core. When she hears that fateful whistle, it sets into certain motion her resolve to confront her tormenter. And she does so abruptly and with the certainty that she has the right man tied up in the basement. Then, she still has to break the news of their new houseguest to her unsuspecting husband, Lewis (Chris Messina).

Rapace’s co-stars Kinneman and Messina do yeomen’s work supporting their star’s riveting performance but “The Secrets We Keep” belongs to her. Her co-stars fill the bill solidly, however, and the film has its share twists that I honestly did not see coming. That in and of itself is a treat.

Director Adler keeps the story tension high as Maja has to decide what to do with her prisoner. The result is a woman on an inexorable path to her own, and her family’s, destiny.