At a glance, “In Secret” seems to have everything it needs to make a great movie. However, the compelling story adapted from the 1867 Emile Zola novel, “Thérèse Raquin,” and a talented cast featuring Oscar Isaac (Inside Lewynn Davis) and Elizabeth Olson (“Martha Marcy May Marlene), are not enough to rescue this film from the mediocre depths in which it slowly and painfully drowns. Individually, certain aspects of the film stood greater than the sum of its parts, and despite starting out strong, the film gradually loses momentum and will leave audiences wondering, “What just happened to this movie?”
The film begins with Thérèse Raquin, a young French girl who gets left in the care of her aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), while her father works in Africa. Madame Raquin’s husband is long dead, and she lives with her only child, the sickly Camille, played by Tom Felton, of “Harry Potter” fame. Growing up in the French countryside during the 19th century, their lives are simple enough, that is until Thérèse’s father is killed in an accident and she becomes an orphan. Without any security in her life, Thérèse is essentially forced to marry her cousin and the family moves to Paris, where Thérèse meets her husband’s handsome coworker, Laurent (Isaac). A passionate affair ensues, prompting the lovers to murder Camille, and in the process bite off way more than they can chew. At this point the film takes a dark turn as the characters struggle with the guilt of their crime and are haunted by the memory of Camille.
Up until Camille’s murder, “In Secret” seems to have a promising storyline. Although it navigates the well-trodden path of the forbidden love-triangle (in 19th century Paris no less), the characters are interesting enough to provide a sense of originality. Camille is such a wimp (imagine an older Draco Malfoy with a receding hairline and constantly in a feverish sweat), and Madame Raquin is so overbearing that you can’t help but root for Laurent and Thérèse.
Laurent’s character is a desk clerk by day, but a talented painter by night (because, Paris), dwarves Camille’s masculinity with his stature and massive sideburns and possesses the kind of raw French sexiness that leaves Thérèse breathless every time he enters a room. Some of it is a bit over the top, but the dose of cliché is not fatal.
When the two decide that the only way their love can flourish is if Camille has an “accident,” the film becomes difficult to watch. The lead characters become wracked with guilt and while Laurent carries on with other women, Thérèse goes to bars alone and drinks Absinthe (because, in case you forgot, this is Paris). One of the most irritating aspects of this part of the story is how unnaturally quick the two leads fall out of love. The process takes about 10 minutes, and they go from passionately making love to having second thoughts about the marriage they literally murdered someone to begin.
One bright spot that emerges during the film’s decline is the development of Lange’s character. As Madame Raquin descends into a grief stricken madness, her character demands more and more of Lange, and she never fails to meet the quota. When Madame Raquin suffers a stroke late in the film and loses control of most of her body, her subtle eye movements and facial expressions still carry some of the heaviest emotional moments of the film. Lange’s performance was an A-level compared to the rest of the movie, and will likely be tragically overlooked.
Although I have several good things to say about “In Secret,” I cannot recommend it. The story is gripping, the acting is good, but when it comes together, the film is another forgettable February bust.
NOT RECOMMENDED: Despite having great potential, “In Secret” fails to come together and falls apart in the second act.