The Secrets We Keep review – Noomi Rapace brings light and shade to pulpy drama

Set in the late 1950s in a geographically vague American suburban town where fin-tailed cars roll sedately through the streets and women wear dresses shaped like great silent bells, local doctor Lewis (Chris Messina) and his Romanian-born wife Maja (Noomi Rapace) and their grade-school son Patrick (Jackson Dean Vincent) look like everyone else pursuing the American dream. But as the title rather suggests, there are secrets afoot; quite a few in fact. They all start to come out when Maja spots a tall blond man (Joel Kinnaman, in fact, and, like Rapace, originally from Sweden) with just the faintest German accent. Maja is completely convinced this European, who says he’s a Swiss national named Thomas, is really a German named Carl who did unspeakable things towards the end of the war 15 years earlier.

At first, she simply stalks him, wearing perfect little 50s sunglasses all the while. As she does so, the soundtrack plays a pastiche of the sort of suspenseful string music one might hear in an Alfred Hitchcock film from the period, like Vertigo or Rear Window or, as suggested by a cinema marquee Maja and the man happen to pass, North by Northwest.

It’s heavy thematic nudges like this which rather tarnish some of the subtlety built up elsewhere in the film, where director Yuval Adler and the cast have performed a narrative fan dance, revealing and obscuring bits of backstory and adopting inscrutable expressions that cast doubt on everyone’s motives and veracity. Rapace is particularly good at seeming mysterious, neurotic, vulnerable and terrifyingly focused all at once when all she’s actually doing is smoking a cigarette and standing there. Messina and Kinnaman offer sturdy support and bring light and shade to their own roles just as well.

All in all, it’s an engaging if pulpy drama. It’s the same kind conceit as the Costa-Gavras film Music Box – one that keeps the audience wondering if someone is or isn’t a Nazi throughout – and it is in essence a 50/50 coin flip with only two possible outcomes. But the film keeps the coin spinning through the air for a surprisingly long time.

• The Secrets We Keep is available on 14 May on Sky Cinema and Now.