The Secrets We Keep has a tired premise elevated by great production and editing

The Secrets We Keep (MA, 98 minutes)

4 stars

Israeli director Yuval Adler gifts The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace a raw and wonderful role in this small but suspenseful post-war drama.

Rapace plays Maja, wife to American doctor Lewis (Chris Messina) in a picturesque small-town backwater in the late 1950s.

Chris Messina, left and Noomi Rapace in The Secrets We Keep (2020). Picture: The Reset Collective

Chris Messina, left and Noomi Rapace in The Secrets We Keep (2020). Picture: The Reset Collective

While hubby tends to the community, most of whom work for a local factory, Maja does the practice books and raises their young son Patrick (Jackson Vincent).

Lewis met Maja in a Greek hospital at the end of the war and, like many in their community, they are making new lives for themselves and putting Europe and their past lives behind them.

Maja's past comes flooding back to her in the local park one day when she hears a man whistling for his dog.

She feels like she knows that whistle, and it takes some manoeuvring to get a good look, and then a second and a third, at a man she becomes certain she has met before.

Is new-to-town Thomas (Joel Kinnaman), husband to Rachel (Amy Seimetz), really the Nazi SS officer Maja blames for the death of her sister as the Romany siblings fled a concentration camp years earlier?

Maja's husband, who as a doctor will have made an oath to do no harm, has a decision to make and quickly, when Maja arrives home with an unconscious Thomas in the boot of their car.

She is determined to hold him and use whatever means necessary to extract what she sees as the truth abut his past from the man who claims to be a Swedish national who spent the war years employed as a humble clerk, and with supporting documentation to prove it.

Maja even befriends Thomas's wife in her hunt for the truth.

Looking at a film like this as a piece of storytelling as opposed to its filmmaking merits, I have to ponder a little about the law of diminishing returns.

This is possibly the two-dozenth film I've seen in the is-he-the-war-criminal genre, the probable best of which was the Ben Kingsley-Sigourney Weaver film Death and the Maiden.

The familiarity of the story and plotting takes away from filmmaker's hard work, and as a viewer one is left expecting that with this story having already been so thoroughly explored, there must be a terrific twist coming that inserts a refreshing new take to the genre.

I won't spoil whether such a thing is forthcoming.

What the film does have that elevates it are three superlative lead performances from Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman and Chris Messina.

Messina I am more familiar with from his small screen work, including as Mindy Kaling's love interest on The Mindy Project, and less frivolous work on series like Damages and The Newsroom.

Noomi Rapace in The Secrets We Keep (2020). Picture: The Reset Collective

Noomi Rapace in The Secrets We Keep (2020). Picture: The Reset Collective

He could have easily been overshadowed playing opposite the girl with the dragon tattoo herself.

But he and his small-town GP character are a good match for Rapace.

Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman worked for two decades in Nordic film and television before making his name on high-profile series like The Killing and the Netflix sci-fi series Altered Carbon. In that role, his impressive physicality was a bit of a distraction.

Here, his performance is small, which I don't mean as a negative. It is an intense block of work, as is that from Noomi Rapace.

Since Dragon Tattoo made her a star, many of the films that have cast her haven't given her such an opportunity to show off her range as an actor, but this film is a showcase.

Fun fact - Rapace and Kinnaman actually went to high school together in their native Sweden.

The film's other great charm is the collective work of its cinematographers, production design and costuming teams to support the screenwriters' interpretation of post-war America.

It isn't Norman Rockwell-perfect, it is equal parts fresh paint and damaged people, and that felt honest.

This story Fine cast lifts suspenseful drama first appeared on The Canberra Times.