Set in 1960, Rapace plays Maja, a Romanian refugee and Holocaust survivor, now living in a small American town with her physician doctor Lewis (Chris Messina) and son Patrick (Jackson Vincent). One day at the park she hears a man whistle for his dog and a flood of memories come back. Following him home she gets a good look and her worst fears are confirmed. He is the SS officer who, near the end of the war, raped her and killed her sister as they fled a concentration camp.
Blinded by anger and horrific memories she kidnaps him, hitting him in the head with a hammer and shoving him in the trunk of her car. When Lewis gets home to find the man, who denies Maja’s charges and claims to be a Swiss citizen named Thomas (Joel Kinnaman, who, in real life went to high school with Rapace), tied up in the basement he is rightfully perplexed. Maja had never shared to the details of her ordeal with her husband but he trusts her and goes along with plan to get a confession, one way or another. “I’m not the man you think I am,” Thomas (or whatever his name is) says, begging to be let go. She is tortured by the memory of what happened and why her sister was shot and she wasn’t. “Help me remember,” she says to him. “It is your only way out of here.”
“The Secrets We Keep” raises questions of trust, survivor’s guilt and the corrosive nature of secrets. It’s a gritty, unsentimental movie that ratches up the tension with ideas, not action. How reliable is Maja’s memory? What amount of scepticism should Lewis bring to this situation? Is vengeance morally correct? Those questions and more hang heavy over the plot, confronting the viewer to assess their own feelings and biases. The story isn’t particularly tricky but it is carefully calibrated to make you wonder who is telling the truth, who is lying and even, who can trust their memories of long-ago events.
Rapace does her best work ever in an English film, bringing some nuance to a character who could have been played with a much harder, vengeful edge. Messina brings the sense of his character’s confusion to life—You said we were going to do things together,” he says supportively, “and you torture him while I’m not here?”—while Kinnaman remains a cypher, a person who may or may not be the man Maja thinks he is. Each performance fits in place, creating a mosaic of truths and lies that is as compelling as it is confounding.