The Secrets We Keep
by George Wolf
Anyone who saw the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo knows if you get on the wrong side of a score with Noomi Rapace, she’ll have no problem settling it.
As Maja in The Secrets We Keep, Rapace has a similar mindset. Settled into post-war Suburbia in an unnamed town, Maja and her physician husband Lewis (Chris Messina) run the local medical clinic while raising their young son, Patrick.
On one fateful afternoon, the Romanian-born Maja is shaken to her core by the sight of a man (Joel Kinnaman) she believes committed heinous war crimes against her and her family years before. After setting a successful trap, Maja kidnaps the man and holds him captive in her basement, finally detailing to Lewis the horrifying ordeal she has never spoken of.
Director and co-writer Yuval Adler sets an effective hook despite some forced visual cues (a literal bubble bursting, North by Northwest on a theater marquee). Rapace delivers the right mix of confused trauma, making Maja’s indecision between murder and interrogation ring true (much more so than the petite Rapace’s ability to maneuver the dead weight of Kinnaman).
Is the suburban hostage a Swiss immigrant named Thomas, as he claims, or is he the former Nazi Karl, whose war crimes haunt Maja’s dreams?
Adler seems to sense the need to distance the film from Death and the Maiden (and, to a lesser extent, Big Bad Wolves), but as events move further from the basement, an air of B-movie pulp emerges.
A visit from the neighborhood cop seems to exist only for contrived tension, while Maja’s burgeoning friendship with her captive’s wife (Amy Seimetz) and daughter can never quite move the shadow of secrets over the entirety of picket-fence Americana the way Adler intends.
And despite a terrific performance from Messina, Lewis lands as a frustrating and sometimes distracting presence. While Lewis’s struggle to believe Maja – even without a confession – is one of the film’s most resonant strengths, the bigger struggle concerns the film’s commitment to defining Maja on her own terms.
When it does commit, The Secrets We Keep rewards the investment. But when it cops out, there’s little here we haven’t already been told.