The Secrets We Keep

Jacob Richardson | 2/10/2020

A dark, meticulous and slow film.


In post-WWII America, Maja (Noomi Rapace) is trying to live a normal life and forget her horrific  experiences in the war. The pain floods back, however, when she stumbles across Thomas (Joel Kinnaman) in her small suburban town - a long way from the heart of Europe, where she believes he killed her sister before changing his name and fleeing to the US. Maja and her husband Lewis (Chris Messina) kidnap Thomas and keep him in a basement, as they try and force him to admit his past. 


The Secrets We Keep is fundamentally a slow-burn piece about the lies we tell, the burden of secrets, and what it takes to convince someone you’re finally telling the truth. This triple-hander focuses on the tension between Maja, Thomas and Lewis. Maja is certain that Thomas is her man, and is desperate to punish him. Lewis, meanwhile, is unsure - it’s been years, and how can she be so sure? Thomas is desperately trying to convince them both that he is not the man she seeks, but is he telling the truth? 


This film is dark in the extreme. The torture feels raw and visceral, and tonally everything is muted colours. It isn’t at all an enjoyable watch; rather a complex emotional storm. The question, then, becomes whether the drama is tense and compelling enough to be worth a watch. The answer, alas, is as complex as the tale being told. 


From a performance perspective, everyone is on fine form. Rapace is a powerhouse, and even Kinnaman is doing good work. They make the moral complexities on display fully realised, drawing deep from the well of both the righteousness of anger, and the mistrust of memory. 


The issue then is in the story itself and the morality on display. It is difficult to root for anyone in this film, as they are all morally repugnant. While that makes for perhaps a compelling message, it doesn’t make for engaging viewing, and that means that The Secrets We Keep becomes quite a slog to get through. 


The Secrets We Keep is well made and poses a tough moral conundrum at its heart. But you’ll be hard pressed getting through one viewing, let alone two.