Movie Review ~ The Secrets We Keep


The Facts
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Synopsis: In post-World War II America, a woman, rebuilding her life in the suburbs with her husband, kidnaps her neighbor and seeks vengeance for the heinous war crimes she believes he committed against her.

Stars: Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Chris Messina, Amy Seimetz, Jackson Dean Vincent, Madison Paige Jones, Jeff Pope, David Maldonado, Ed Amatrudo, Ritchie Montgomery

Director: Yuval Adler

Rated: R

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  In 1990, playwright Ariel Dorfman wrote a charged play titled Death and The Maiden which centered on a former political prisoner that has started a new life with her husband in a remote part of the world.  Though it’s been years since her torture and rape at the hands of brutal guards, she remains haunted by her memories. When she believes she has run into one of her former captors by chance, she kidnaps him and enacts revenge…even though she isn’t totally sure he is the man who assaulted her those many years ago.  The play was a hit in London and Broadway before being turned into a 1994 movie from Roman Polanski starring Sigourney Weaver.

I was reminded of Death and the Maiden often while watching the new drama The Secrets We Keep because it shares many plot points with Dorfman’s earlier work.  Though it strays from the 1990 piece is several key areas, it almost feels like a slinky remake, albeit with less of a politicized edge than Dorfman implied and Polanski capitalized on.  Director and co-screenwriter Yuval Adler and his screenwriter collaborator Ryan Covington actually wind up treading on a lot of familiar ground here, producing a film that has a meaningful message at its core but is hampered by a clumsy delivery system.  Instead of truly delving into the dark areas it hints at, it opts to keep the night light on and avoid confronting anything seriously horrific.

Adler sets the film in 1959 anytown USA where housewife Maja (Noomi Rapace, Dead Man Down) lives with her doctor husband Lewis (Chris Messina, Live by Night) and son Patrick (Jackson Dean Vincent).  Their idyllic, post WWII town is thriving with a local refinery in full bore and an influx of returning veterans expanding their families.  The film has barely caught its breath when Maja hears a familiar whistle while lounging in the park with her son and follows the sound to a man that stirs a repressed memory.  A Romanian, Maja’s family was slaughtered by the Nazis and she was raped, along with her sister, by a gang of soldiers before escaping…the survivors guilt she harbors has been crippling and it all returns with that one whistle.

Convinced she has found one of the men that committed that heinous crime against her, she quickly puts together a plan to kidnap him and force him into confessing.  Turns out, Maja is quite resourceful and nabbing the unsuspecting man (Joel Kinnaman, RoboCop) and getting him set-up in her basement isn’t all that difficult…but getting him to admit who he is will be.  With Lewis involved and her desperation to get the truth becoming more important than ever, Maja will resort to anything to uncover the truth.  Yet the question lingers, has Maja accused the wrong man?  Hints at psychiatric trauma and recent therapeutic sessions suggest there’s maybe a reason to doubt her recall of the events or call into question her judgement where her family is concerned.

Though the film is filled with numerous moments of supposed tension hinging on the discovery of a man trapped in the basement of this otherwise picturesque couple, I was surprised at how little energy the movie spends to create any kind of spark in anyone or anything.  There’s this general somber tone throughout and a drained-out color scheme that makes everything feel it’s either just coming back to life or about to take its last breath.  Rapace in particular looks so suspicious, you’d think she was hiding an entire football team and their grandmothers in her basement…she always looks rattled.  When she befriends the wife of the man (played by She Dies Tomorrow director Amy Seimetz with the kind of interesting mystery the entire film needed  more of) I kept waiting for the wife to ask her to blink twice if she needed help at home.

While the production design is solid and the costumes are more than just your usual pencil skits and trousers look, everything else just seems to tow the line…and that’s too bad because there’s an important story here waiting to be told.  Messina seems to be the one that’s hopped on the right train and knows where he’s headed and Kinnaman does too, for a bit, until the character has a shift that doesn’t get to be explored fully.  I always want to like Rapace more in films but possibly with the exception of 2012’s Prometheus she’s just never been as good or well represented as she was in the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films in Sweden that made her famous.  While she’s well suited for the role, it ultimately proves to be another wrong fit for the actress.

The atrocious crimes committed by German Nazis against Jews and other marginalized Europeans during WWII have been explored and exploited by the entertainment industry for years by now.  It’s gotten to the point that the horrific rapes and murders depicted in the flashbacks seen in The Secrets We Keep are easy to chalk up alongside everyday crimes we’ve been desensitized to by the television and movies we watch.  I say that not to condemn the filmmakers of this film or any other with similar themes but to put into perspective how commonplace the acts portrayed within seem to have become…and make sure we never truly forget the real lives that were affected.  That’s one key area where the film succeeds, in detailing how this trauma can infest your entire life and the lives of others if not dealt with.

The Silver Bullet ~ Alien: Covenant

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Synopsis: The crew of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think is an uncharted paradise, but it is actually a dark, dangerous world, whose sole inhabitant is the synthetic David, survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.

Release Date:  May 19, 2017

Thoughts: Anticipation was high back in 2012 when director Ridley Scott’s mysterious Prometheus arrived veiled in secrecy.  Was it a prequel to Alien or wasn’t it?  Early previews gave few clues and neither Scott nor 20th Century Fox did much to fill in the blanks.  Prometheus sharply divided audiences and critics, some appreciating that Scott reached further back than mere prequel territory while others loathed it with a vitriol usually reserved for a Transformers sequel.  Personally, I loved it and saw it several times on the big screen; it’s cliffhanger ending only made me more curious about what would happen next.  The answer comes next May with Alien: Covenant and this first look is a neat (if overly gory/spoiler-y) intro to a film that looks very different than its predecessor.  Perhaps Scott (The Martian) and screenwriter John Logan (Skyfall, Spectre, Hugo) are trying to please the fans and detractors of Prometheus at the same time.  Riding that fine line would be good, I just hope they don’t overcompensate and make a faded copy of the original entry.  Aside from Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) and Noomi Rapace (Dead Man Down) returning in their roles, star Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) certainly is going full-on Ellen Ripley and I’m interested (and a little nervous) to see how actors like Danny McBride (This Is the End) and the recently added James Franco (Sausage Party) figure into the mix. It’s worth noting that Alien: Covenant was originally intended for a release in October 2017.  It was then moved up to August before settling into a prime summer release date in May.  That’s a very good sign of a studio confident they have something big…let’s hope so.

The Silver Bullet ~ Child 44

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Synopsis: A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union.

Release Date:  April 17, 2015

Thoughts: Originally published in 2008, the novel this Cold War thriller is based off of is the first in a trilogy involving Soviet agent Leo Demidov, played here by Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road).  With Hollywood’s love of a good franchise starter, how well Child 44 performs may be the key to future adaptations…but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s stay in the here and now because I love a good murder mystery.  Bolstered by Hardy’s rising star presence in addition to Noomi Rapace (Dead Man Down and Hardy’s co-star in The Drop), Gary Oldman (Lawless), Charles Dance (The Imitation Game), Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), and Joel Kinnaman (2014’s RoboCop), Child 44 may represent a nice throwback to the classier end of the serial killer chiller that’s all but dissolved from the filmmaking landscape.

Movie Review ~ Passion

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The rivalry between the manipulative boss of an advertising agency and her talented protégée escalates from stealing credit to public humiliation to murder.

Stars: Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace, Karoline Herfurth, Paul Anderson

Director: Brian De Palma

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  In the’ 70s and early 80s there was one American director that could be counted on to bring a daring style to his films.  With a distinct European flair with more than a fair dollop of Hitchcock inventiveness, Brian De Palma had the market cornered on darkly twisty features from Sisters to Carrie to Blow Out to The Fury.  I personally think 1980’s Dressed to Kill is a true genre masterpiece and the director never saw the kind of success like he did in this era.

So when word got out that De Palma was again exploring a dark side with a remake of the 2010 French film Crime d’amour I was intrigued to see if this Passion project would help the director reclaim some of the fame he’s had a substantial hand in frittering away.  Depressingly ungainly and ultimately awful, Passion is less of a comeback and more a death knell for a director I continue to have great admiration for.

Where did this movie go wrong?  It would be nice to have somewhere else to throw some blame but as director and screenwriter it’s De Palma that must shoulder it all.  The casting is way off, the camera work surprisingly flat, and the plot is a mash-up of the worst bits of the mystery genre.  Worst of all…it’s dull.  I can forgive most anything in a film but being tedious is something I can’t stand for.  It’s over an hour and a half of false starts and dead ends, with roadblocks thrown in to further stymie any energy the cast tries to work up.

Not that the cast is working very hard.  Rachel McAdams merely conjures up a more adult version of Regina George, the queen bee meanie she played to success in Mean Girls.  With her blonde hair and impressive closet of fashion forward costumes, McAdams may look the part of the femme fatale that De Palma so loves to film but the actress lacks fundamental depth.  Her character is hungry for success yet McAdams never shows true darkness beneath her porcelain veneer – we’re led to believe she’s a sexual fetishist but either McAdams didn’t want to go the extra mile to make this quirk fully realized or De Palma didn’t ask her to and the result is a toothless villain.

I want to like Noomi Rapace so much but she’s making it extremely difficult with her choices.  Though I liked her work in Prometheus, in March’s Dead Man Down, her fragile butterfly demeanor failed her…as it does here.  This is the original girl with the dragon tattoo so we know what she’s capable of…but she’s totally checked out in a performance that leaves her and the audience dazed and confused.  With her cooing child-like voice and blank, expressionless face, she always looks like she just woke up from a long nap.

Even if McAdams and Rapace were up to the challenge, De Palma’s script is full of clichéd dialogue and developments that don’t make sense in terms of small things like, oh, time, logic, common sense.  The actresses have several hysterically earnest dramatic exchanges that only show the weaknesses in De Palma’s lame and tragically tame script.  There’s a love triangle that forms the central crux of the story but a lack of chemistry between McAdams, Rapace and the atrociously unappealing Paul Anderson makes it a bust.  The big twist of the film happens too late to win back the audience and even then De Palma wastes an opportunity to turn the plot on its ear and go a different direction.  Instead, the movie winds up exactly where you think it will with zero surprises along the way.

Though De Palma’s famous use of split-screen is employed here in a mildly successful manner, it only makes you think back to his previous work that capitalized on strong themes, a sense of urgency, and the energy of both cast and crew.  In Passion, the entire film looks like it was made under the influence of sleeping pills…a tragedy when De Palma’s films used to keep us up at night.

Skip it.

Forget about it.

Pretend this movie never happened.

Movie Review ~ Dead Man Down

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In New York City, a crime lord’s right-hand man is seduced by a woman seeking retribution.

Stars: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Dominic Cooper, Terrence Howard, Isabelle Huppert

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  Have you ever been sitting in a movie theater and find yourself rooting for a bad movie to be good?  Maybe it’s the inherent “Minnesota Nice” in me or the understanding of all the work that goes into crafting a picture for mass consumption but I try to always hope for the best in even the worst situations.  Dead Man Down isn’t a total failure of epic proportions but its lack of any momentum or true surprise stings more than it should.

First off, you have a solid cast assembled.  Rapace made a name for herself in the US as the original Lisbeth Salander  in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo long before it was remade as a slick thriller by David Fincher.  In that film she worked with Dead Man Down director Oplev and produced a mini-miracle a performance.  It still bums me out she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for her work. 

In Dead Man Down Rapace and Oplev are both a bit at sea, never finding the right tone or rhythm that this type of crime drama sorely needs.  One moment it’s a gritty examination of revenge and the next it’s a dark romantic comedy.  With neither theme getting the prime focus; it winds up just feeling disjointed and messy. 

That’s too bad because Farrell (Total Recall) knows exactly what kind of film he’s in and works hard to give his character some added nuance and depth.  Working for a villainous NYC crime boss (played too gently by Howard), his character is a brooding dude with a few secrets he’s working to keep hidden.  So it’s natural that he’s intrigued by Rapace’s scarred (emotionally and physically) neighbor who lives with her mother (woefully underused but quite kooky Huppert, Amour)– their exchanges have some nice pop to them but no real chemistry is ever created. 

Unfortunately, the blame falls on Rapace for that – her character often comes off as too child-like and twee.  Even though I liked Rapace in Promethus more than most, US films haven’t quite found the right place for her – something that’s probably as frustrating for her as it is for her fans. 

I kept waiting for the film to divert from its standard plot set-up and surprise me but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  You could tell there was a little nugget of a fine film waiting to be hatched but it didn’t have enough time to develop.  This may be worth a rental down the line but as a film you need to see in theaters…I’d pass on it.

The Silver Bullet ~ Dead Man Down

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Synopsis: In New York City, a crime lord’s right-hand man is seduced by one of his boss’s victims, a woman seeking retribution.

Release Date:  March 8, 2013

Thoughts: While I was a huge fan of David Fincher’s remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I still felt that the original was overall a more enjoyable feature thanks to smart direction from Niels Arden Oplev and a stunning performance from Noomi Rapace.  Now making his US debut,  Oplev has enlisted old pal Rapace to be the female lead in a crime thriller that looks mighty impressive in its first trailer.  Though I could take or leave main baddie Terrence Howard (mostly leave), I continue to be impressed with the choices that star Colin Farrell is taking.  Dead Man Down has the feel of a film that Martin Scorsese might have made in the 70’s…let’s hope that the final product delivers what the nifty trailer promises.