MRR Review: "In Secret"

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The story is set in the lower echelons of 1860s Paris. Thérèse Raquin (Elizabeth Olsen), a sexually repressed beautiful young woman, is trapped into a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin, Camille (Tom Felton), by her domineering aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange). Thérèse spends her days confined behind the counter of a small shop and her evenings watching Madame play dominoes with an eclectic group. After she meets her husband's alluring friend, Laurent LeClaire (Oscar Isaac), she embarks on an illicit affair that leads to tragic consequences.
3.5

 

Rating: R

Length: 101 minutes

Release Date: February 6, 2014

Directed by: Charlie Stratton

Genre: Drama / Crime / Thriller

 

The history of Charlie Stratton's adaptation of the well-loved 19th-century novel "Thérèse Raquin"  is close to being the stuff of legend itself. The news of an adaptation of the classic work was enough to set off a wave of excited speculation in the Hollywood community. The casting news did little to quell the fire of anticipation, with names like Kate Winslet, Gerard Butler and Glenn Close being bandied about. However, the final cast of "In Secret" is even more exciting than the speculation, with a great mix of fresh faces and exciting talent. 

In addition to a very promising cast, this period piece was helmed by rookie director Charlie Stratton. While a first-time is by nature an unproven entity, Stratton works very well with cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister and an immensely talented cast. The result is a surprisingly accessible, entertaining adaptation of a work that is almost one and a half centuries old.

"In Secret" is the first directorial effort from Charlie Stratton, and it is certainly an interesting choice for a first timer. To start with, it is an adaptation of a novel with a fairly dedicated following. This alone presents a set of advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, the story is already well established as being entertaining, and there is already a built-in audience in fans of the book. On the other hand, audiences do not necessarily accept an adaptation with open arms, especially those who have their own expectations of how the story should be adapted for the screen.

In addition to the complexities of filming an adaptation of a classic novel, "In Secret" is one of those productions that the Hollywood press followed closely at every step, adding a whole new level of expectations amongst the public and critics. On top of everything else, the movie has prestigious actors who often work only with more established directors. Whether in spite of these challenges or because of them, there is good news for fans of both the novel and the cast. "In Secret" does justice to its source material while also being a compelling piece of cinema set in mid-19th century Paris.

There are a number of elements that come together to make "In Secret" work the way it does. First of all there is the original French novel. "Thérèse Raquin" has a solid story at its core, one that is both simple and undeniable. Elizabeth Olsen is perfect in the role of Therese. Therese's aunt Madame Raquin raises her alone after the death of Therese's mother. Jessica Lange portrays Madame Raquin with an intensity that might be over the top in other hands, but Lange brings a raw emotional undercurrent that is hard to refute.

Tom Felton plays Camille, Therese's husband through arranged marriage. Camille is fragile and generally unwell and fits in with Therese's situation of ineffectuality. With her sheltered, boring life and weak husband, it is no surprise that Therese is at once disgusted by and attracted to the virile, aggressive Laurent. Played by Oscar Isaac, Laurent's evident handsomeness does not hurt the cause, either. Needless to say, the resulting affair leads to serious consequences during the movie's last act.

Part of what makes "In Secret" work better than some predicted is the unexpected approach to the material. On paper, the plot looks oppressively downbeat and potentially melodramatic. However, there is a surprisingly humorous tone that leavens the material. The result is a movie that is unexpectedly watchable and entertaining. This risky yet successful tonal decision is a good indicator that director Charlie Stratton is a talent to watch. The cinematography matches the sometimes tricky tone quite well at all times.

Fortunately for viewers, "In Secret" is a success as both an adaptation and a movie that stands alone. Not only did the director do justice to the source material through skill and gutsy directorial decisions, but the cast do a uniformly terrific job of inhabiting their characters as well as bringing the story and the director's vision to life.

Both adaptations and period pieces are delicate and often problematic affairs. "In Secret" is both, and the news and rumors surrounding the making of this release have made some movie fans as well as fans of the novel apprehensive about the final product. Fortunately, this is one of those cases where all the stars have seemingly aligned for a quality picture. Along with a cast who all fit their parts unusually well, director Charlie Stratton has created an adaptation that is sure to be interesting and entertaining even for those unfamiliar with the source material.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5