The flawed but still compelling latest feature from director/co-writer Yuval Adler (The Operative, Bethlehem) takes the somewhat familiar story (at least in movies) of a former Nazi soldier found in our midst and hiding under a new name; here, he’s discovered by a woman he brutalized so badly that she will never forget his face. The Secrets We Keep tells the story of Maja (Noomi Rapace), who was held in a prison in her native Romania with her younger sister 15 years before the present day of this story. Now, on the brink of 1960, she lives in a small town in America and is married to an American, Lewis (Chris Messina), with whom she has a young son.
One day while running errands, she hears a man whistle an unmistakable whistle and she catches a glimpse of someone (Joel Kinnaman) she once knew as Karl, a German soldier who, as the Nazis were pulling out of Romania, raped her and murdered her sister with the help of a few of his fellow soldiers. Before even seeing his face, Maja is convinced the man she saw peripherally is Karl, and she sets about following him until she sees him at home with his American wife (Amy Seimetz). She eventually maneuvers into a situation where she kidnaps him and ties him up in her basement, interrogating him and hoping to get him to confess to his crimes. He swears on everything he can that he is Swedish not German and that he never fought in the war, but at this point Maja has gone too far to turn back. Eventually, she involves Lewis, who reluctantly assists her but does not approve of the torturous methods she begins to employ to get a confession.
At times, The Secrets We Keep feels a bit exploitative and b-movie in its execution. That being said, the strength of the lead actors is so undeniable, it makes the material seem more thought-provoking than perhaps it deserves. Rapace in particular is strong as a survivor who has been so driven past the point of no return (at least in her mind) that anything other than her version of the facts won’t satisfy her. She claims she’ll let this man go if he just confesses his crimes and answers her lingering inquiries about the night in question, but no one (including the audience) is truly buying that statement.
In one of the film’s more unexpected turns, Maja makes friends with Seimetz’s character while “Karl” is in her basement, in an effort to gather more information about his life before moving to America. As a result of their conversations, Seimetz begins to realize she doesn’t really know her husband’s life before they met, and it begins to worry her, which not surprisingly is just fine with Maja.
The tension in The Secrets We Keep is kept fairly high throughout, a testament to director Adler’s tight pacing and a well-managed series of reveals about both Karl and Maja’s actions on that terrible night. The way things play out isn’t exactly what I expected, but it’s hardly shocking—nor does it qualify as a twist (thank goodness). The gripping, sometimes ugly, story plays out in both the past and the present until we arrive at the truth, with much thought given to the consequences of the entire episode. Still, exceptional performances guide this sometimes misguiding work to a mostly satisfying conclusion, and there are some days I’m willing to think that’s enough.
The film is now playing at Landmark Century Center Cinema. Please follow venue, state and CDC health and safety guidelines if attending indoor screenings.
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