It's not the hard-hitting exposé that it aims to be, but for all its flaws, "An Open Secret" is an unsettling look at pedophilia in Hollywood.
After reported difficulties securing distribution, the documentary by Amy Berg arrives in theaters feeling somewhat fragmented and occasionally heavy-handed. Clunky elements aside, the film's distillation of firsthand testimony and archival material has haunting implications.
Amid the sickening recollections of victims and the even more sickening justifications of abusers, alleged and convicted, a picture emerges of a business devoid of oversight, where starry-eyed kids and trusting parents are easy prey. The film advocates for transparency and an active watchdog apparatus, and it points to instances where convicted child molesters continue to work with children in the industry.
Mainly, the film explores the shadows where managers, agents, producers and other power players take their predatory bonding with boys to criminal extremes. Five young men step forward to share their accusations of abuse.
One of them, Michael Egan, filed headline-making allegations against Hollywood figures in 2014 — claims that he later dropped, an outcome that changed the trajectory of the film. However, an ongoing dispute between Berg and performers' union SAG-AFTRA, which threatened legal action over references to it, doesn't appear to have affected the finished product.
Berg indulges in a couple of pandering tabloid touches, shamelessly playing up the Middle American wholesomeness of one victim's parents and the child's unhappy fate. Despite such lapses, the film makes important points. With a healthy sense of outrage, it illuminates a long-standing culture in which lines of moral responsibility are blurred and accountability is all but nil.
"An Open Secret."
MPAA rating: R for descriptions of sexual abuse.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.