Adapted from a novel by French naturalist Emile Zola, the film follows the story of Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) who is forced into a boring marriage and ultimately uses murder as an escape. Jessica Lange is miscast (yes, it is possible) as the sometimes oppressive aunt, and Harry Potter’s Tom Felton plays the sickly husband. Oscar Isaac (from “Inside Llewyn Davis”) fills in as Therese’s love interest and partner in murder.
As talented as the three stars are, their characters are are less interesting than those supporting them. Comedian Matt Lucas plays it straight as a naive bumbling detective, and Shirley Henderson plays his wife as an inquisitive woman held back by society. British actor MacKenzie Crook (from the UK “The Office” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise) has a subdued but welcomed supporting turn as well. I kept wondering what the story would be like if told from one of their perspectives. Needless to say one’s mind wanders as the plodding story unfolds.
The cinematography is excellent. Shot by Florian Hoffmeister (“The Deep Blue Sea”) on the ubiquitous Arri Alexa Plus camera, the choices are interesting adding great texture to an otherwise understated and even blah narrative. I always like talking about how the film was shot and particularly whether it was shot with a digital camera as opposed to film. But in this case, the images are about the only thing to recommend. It pains me to say this, but “In Secret” could have used a little more overt sex in order to wake the audience from what I observed was in impending slumber.
Obviously, much of the attention will be paid here to Elizabeth Olsen. After shedding her television personality, Olsen has shown us that she is an actress with great potential. Her performance in the 2011 scary film “Mary Marcy May Marlene,” was no fluke, Olsen is good here but her performance and those around her cannot save a dull story.
Finally, and this is nit-picky, Jessica Lange is tasked with playing a French woman in the 1860s. She just doesn’t have the accent for it and everyone’s accent around her does not bear any hint of the location. No one seems to speak French and no one seems to be French. It is a little off-putting especially given the story’s origins. And even though I really like the way the film is shot, the locations don’t give us much of a French feel either. Clearly, this is by design or perhaps related to the film’s budget. But if it were possible to miscast the usually perfect Jessica Lange, “In Secret” is the primary example.