Review: Noomi Rapace can’t escape the past in dramatic thriller ‘The Secrets We Keep’

Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman in "The Secrets We Keep."
(Bleecker Street)

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Psychological thriller and domestic drama find common ground in the lean, well-acted “The Secrets We Keep,” starring Noomi Rapace, Chris Messina and Joel Kinnaman. Directed by Israeli filmmaker Yuval Adler from a screenplay he wrote with Ryan Covington, the film bears a loose resemblance to Ariel Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden,” and focuses on a Romanian war bride haunted by her past in post-World War II America.

Rapace plays Maja, who lives with her physician husband Lewis (the always soulful Messina) and their young son in a small Rockwellian town, far from the horrors of Europe. The night terrors have passed, but one bright, sunny day she hears the familiar whistle and voice of a man playing with his dog and suddenly she’s rocketed back 15 years to the night a group of German soldiers terrorized her, her younger sister and other women.


That man, Thomas (Kinnaman), a pipe-fitter newly arrived in town with his wife Rachel (Amy Steimetz) and two small children, claims to be Swiss. But Maja, despite her fragmented memories, is certain he is a rapist and murderer named Karl. How Maja seeks retribution, the effect it has on her relationship with Lewis and the unraveling of the American dream drive the story, one that feels equally frantic and measured.

The film signals its influences via that old standby, the movie marquee — Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” (with the sci-fi “4D Man”). The genre elements are nicely balanced by the adult drama embodied in the lead quartet’s performances, especially Rapace’s turn that is part femme fatale, part damaged soul.

The stories we tell ourselves, the information we withhold from others and the threat of discovery that hangs over our misdeeds all shape “The Secrets We Keep.” In its modest package, it asks some interesting questions. Will the truth save us or haunt us and can we live with not knowing the answer?

‘The Secrets We Keep’

Rated: R, for strong violence, rape, some nudity, language and brief sexuality

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Playing: In general release where theaters are open; available Oct. 16 on VOD