Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman and Chris Messina play a taut game of cat and mouse in director Yuval Adler’s The Secrets We Keep, a post-WWII thriller that dredges up a dark and dreadful past and delivers a tale of white knuckle tension to the big screen.
In a small U.S. town post-WWII, far from the horrors of the Nazi labour camp where Maja (Noomi Rapace) was held with other Romani prisoners, she and her American husband Lewis (Chris Messina) have built a peaceful life. When a chance encounter leads her to the man (Joel Kinnaman) she thinks brutalized her and her family during the Holocaust, she spirals back to a night she has tried to forget for the past 15 years. Fearful that her tragic past has come back to haunt her, she kidnaps him, seeking vengeance for the heinous war crimes she believes he committed against her. But can she be sure?
Director Yuval Adler places audiences on a tightrope of suspense in his dark and foreboding tale of justice and the truth in The Secrets We Keep. Set in the years following the end of WWII, The Secrets We Keep focuses in on sudden events of previously buried trauma, and Adler uses this intense kidnap narrative to explore ideas of memory, secrets, identity and truth, and it’s 97 minutes of pure suspense.
The Secrets We Keep is all the more intense through the lingering doubt of its characters and the multiple viewpoints established between the three of them. Each of them have their own biases and differing opinions. Then the narrative mixes into this long-held secrets, burning lies and some awful truth, and Adler keeps his audience bound in a suspenseful vice-like grip that dosen’t let up for a moment. This movie starts quick and fast and things soon get dire because of Maja’s actions and her kidnapping of the man she suspects to have abused her during the war. But did he actually do it, or has the nightmares of her mind finally caused her to snap. It’s this uncertain narrative that keeps you guessing the whole way through and leads into an ending that is completely shocking and unexpected.
Noomi Rapace is the central focus of The Secrets We Keep as the film’s main protagonist Maja. As a Roma Gypsy who suffered greatly through WWII she has now built a new life for herself and her family in post-war America…until the dark moments of her past awaken once again. Rapace is consistently one of the most interesting working actresses in Hollywood and here she spins audiences for a loop with her performance. Going from cheerful housewife to wide-eyed kidnapper, Rapace’s unhinged intensity makes you both certain and doubtful of Maja’s quest for justice all at the same time. Rapace keeps her audience guessing the whole way through and her handling of such dark subject matter is a tribute to her level of talent as a performer.
Forming the object of Maja’s fury is Joel Kinnaman’s Thomas Steinman, a Swiss immigrant who has settled in the same town as Maja, but who in her eyes is actually an SS officer who abused her and her sister during the war. But who exactly is he? Like Rapace, Kinnaman excels as her bound subject, and from the outset, you can never tell whether he’s innocent or guilty. Whether he’s telling the truth or simply doing everything he can to survive Maja’s onslaught of rage. Kinnaman is given very tight confines to work with in The Secrets We Keep and like Rapace he keeps audiences on their toes the entire time.
Stuck in the middle of his wife’s quest for revenge is Chris Messina as Lewis, a former Army doctor who she met after the war and whom she has managed to build a life with in America. A naturally good and just man, he soon finds himself caught up in this impossible situation and an accessory to her crime which heightens the tension even further. Messina’s Lewis is the devil’s advocate of the film. And he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place with his wife’s rapidly deteriorating mental state and the fact that that there’s a kidnapped man, who may, or may not, be a Nazi in his basement. Messina plays up the panic of the situation perfectly and leans into and pulls away from his wife heightening the stress of the picture further.
The Secrets We Keep is a thriller in the classic sense as it builds quickly and doesn’t let up to the very end. Yudal doesn’t waste any time here and his insistence on a quick and to the point cinematic experience keeps you primed as an audience member. One of the ways that he builds up the anxiety and pressure of the picture is through his use of a very tight and confined style of cinematography that amplifies the claustrophobia of the film and helps to draw out Maja’s already unstable mental condition even further.
The Secrets We Keep is a film for those who like their thrillers to keep them slightly on edge. Its exploration of trauma and the dark corners of the mind marks it out as something different and it doesn’t let up for a moment.
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