In The Secrets We Keep, we’re in small town America in the late fifties. Noomi Rapace is Maja, the Romanian wife of kindly local physician Lewis (Chris Messina). The pair met in a Greek hospital after the war, before moving stateside to start a family and a better life.
One day, Maja recognises a workman (Joel Kinnaman) walking in the street with his dog. She’s immediately freaked out, disturbed and upset. Maja is adamant in her recollections that the man is ‘Karl’, a malevolent figure from her wartime past. Maja begs Lewis for his help extracting the truth from this man (in the first of several jarringly implausible character turns) after she’s belted him with a hammer, abducted him and locked him in the boot of her car.
Maja explains that her Romani heritage saw her held prisoner and that ‘Karl’ was a soldier in the camp she was held, brutally assaulting her and her sister.
Ostensibly a re-telling (either intentionally or unintentionally) of the 1990 play Death and The Maiden (shot as a film by Roman Polanski with Sigourney Weaver as the traumatised survivor and Sir Ben Kingsley as the figure from her past), this is less a retelling and more a re-tread.
Messina and Kinnaman are talented actors, they deliver solid turns here, despite a very wobbly treatment of the story. Rapace is emotionally overwrought for the duration, though her performance is cranked to eleven, somewhere in the area of ‘Lisbeth Salander: Nazi Hunter’.
Character motivations (lacking the requisite nuance and doubt needed for this type of tale) are confused and all-too convenient, at times they’re even straight up implausible.
If you’re after an old fashioned exploitative revenge bath, even that isn’t on offer because the story aims for a high-brow treatment that it doesn’t follow through on, delivering an unearned denouement that is counter to the themes of the story itself, because it seems to want its strudel and to eat it too.
It’s not a lesson in dispensing justice or a treatise in tempering the desire for vengeance, and neither is it preaching forgiveness, but it wants us to empathise with the plight of this couple, where one is hell bent on violence and the other slides way too easily into complicity. It never really convinces us that ‘right’ (or even logic) is on their side, but maybe that’s the point?
Screening exclusively at Palace Cinemas for a limited season from 17 September
Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona, Palace Central, Palace Byron Bay, Palace James St, Palace Barracks, Palace Electric Cinema & Palace Raine Square
Available to rent via Foxtel Store from 21 October