Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Every Secret Thing

The girl is missing. Three-year-old Brittney Little was last seen in a furniture store as her young mother, Maveen (Sarah Sokolovic), and Maveen’s boyfriend (Common), playfully argued about which type of couch to buy. Two detectives are called to investigate, and they soon begin to unravel a complex plot that could help explain Brittney’s disappearance.

But that’s not where Every Secret Thing begins.

The film starts years earlier, with an extended pre-credit sequence that introduces three key characters: Alice (Brynne Norquist), a young girl with a big attitude, Alice’s mother, Helen (Diane Lane), and Ronnie (Eva Grace Kellner), a quiet and disturbed girl Alice’s age. Shortly into the film, Alice and Ronnie commit an awful act, the full details of which are revealed slowly throughout the film.

The crime gains so much lasting infamy that when Brittney disappears years later, the now-adult Alice (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie (Dakota Fanning) are considered primary, though independent, suspects in Brittney’s abduction. Problem is, the current evidence against Alice and Ronnie is thin, as realized by the detectives on the case (Elizabeth Banks and Nate Parker).
What immediately sets Every Secret Thing apart from similar whodunit thrillers is its smart narrative structure. The film goes to great lengths to carefully reveal itself to us, while still breezing by at a cool 93 minutes. If told as a straight story, most surprises and character motivations would be revealed far too early. Instead, Every Secret Thing uses the past as a weapon. Every flashback is based on either Alice or Ronnie’s conflicting perspective. Whose memory is fractured for convenience, and whose is fractured for protection?

Every Secret Thing had an interesting road to production. In 2010, Frances McDormand bought the rights to Laura Lippman’s novel, commissioning her friend, Nicole Holofcener, to write and direct the film adaptation. Holofcener, the director of such fine films as Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money, Please Give and Enough Said, wrote the tight script but ultimately realized the material was too dark for her to direct. Years later, fearless documentarian Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil, West of Memphis), signed on as director, making Every Little Secret her narrative feature debut.

It’s not easy for documentarians to switch to narrative films. Michael Moore (Canadian Bacon), Errol Morris (The Dark Wind), Joe Berlinger (Blair Witch 2), R.J. Cutler (If I Stay), are only a few who have tried and misfired. Berg is a rare exception. Her knack for story reveal is constant in Every Secret Thing. Berg and co-editors, Billy McMillin (West of Memphis, An Open Secret), and Ron Patane (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines), know just how much to withhold while still maintaining interest.

This notion of the slow reveal permeates throughout the entire film. The cinematographer, Rob Hardy (who also shot Ex Machina), often uses low light, silhouettes are deliberate focus to isolate characters’ intentions. And Holofcener’s script never allows the actors to say more than is necessary.
And those actors are a sight to behold. Every Secret Thing contains one of the finest collections of strong female characters that I’ve seen in quite some time. If you watch Every Secret Thing with someone, you’ll likely spend a great deal of time talking about Diane Lane’s character. I’ll leave the discussion to you, but my God, what a role. Easily Lane’s best work since Unfaithful. Norquist and Kellner are perfectly nuanced incarnations of young Alice and Ronnie, while Macdonald and Fanning occupy the adult roles with great restraint and mystery. Banks’ turn as Detective Porter is her finest dramatic effort yet, and Sarah Sokolovic delivers a brief but terrified performance as Brittney’s mother. Nate Parker and Common are fine as well (their best work is found in the only scene they share together), but this is really a female-driven show.

It would be my recommendation to ignore this film’s Rotten Tomatoes score and dive into its dangerous material. Every Secret Thing is about women – some who do very bad things and others who attempt to make sense of the cruelty. The film is a showcase for female talent, both behind and in front of the camera. Yes, do dive in, and quickly. A-


Every Secret Thing is currently playing in a handful of theaters, and also streaming on Amazon and iTunes

33 comments:

  1. I've heard mixed things about this as I heard that Nicole Holofcener was involved but decided not to direct it which I think would've been outside of her comfort zone. If it's on TV, I'll check it out.

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    1. Funny thing is, good as the script is, it doesn't really feel like a Holofcener script. Very different style for her.

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  2. THANK YOU for telling me this is on iTunes, I've been waiting for this since it was at Tellirude last year. I read the book and loved it. Excellent review. I think I just fangirled.

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    1. My pleasure! I really want to check the book out. Very curious to see how it tells the story.

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  3. It seems we are some of the few who liked this film. It was my favorite of the films I watched at Tribeca last year. I dug the complex female characters, the cinematography and Elizabeth Banks' performance especially.

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    1. That's awesome man, love that you liked this one as well. Honestly, the harsh reviews baffle me. I mean, we like what we like, but some of the reviews I've seen are overly harsh.

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  4. Hey, I actually saw this one last Saturday! I saw favorable review on indiewire and I like Banks so I gave it a shot. Gave it 7/10, the performances were so good, especially the main trio but Lane was a standout. I thought the script needed a bit work, Ronnie's subplot was kinda swept under the rug in the end and the last shot was just provocative, seemingly for all those 'wait what are they suggesting with that?!' discussions.

    But my God, the flashbacks with that poor child were so disturbing and unnerving.

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    1. Sooo disturbing. Those two kid actors were incredible. And Lane... wow, what a force here. I need to find that Indiewire review, because I haven't seen any other favorable reviews yet, which is really sad.

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    2. http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/review-amy-bergs-uneven-every-secret-thing-is-melodramatic-mix-between-david-fincher-and-dennis-lehane-20150512 here you go :)

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    3. Thanks! I liked it a bit more than this, but it's still a solid review.

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    4. BTW have you seen new Mad Max yet? Holy shit, it's amazing!

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    5. Fucked up frenzy porn at its finest.

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  5. Oooh I'll watch anything with the Holofcener stamp on it. I also really enjoyed Deliver Us From Evil, so I'll keep my eye out for this. So great to see Diane Lane in a movie that's worthy of her talent.

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    1. I really hope you like this one then. For me, it was a great collection of unique talents. Berg is such a confident filmmaker. And Lane is crazy good here.

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  6. I recently read the book upon which this is based, and I was afraid they would botch the film adaptation, making it a simplistic mystery/thriller. I am delighted to hear you liked it so much. I will check it out soon. It will be great to see Diane Lane again.

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    1. I hope you like it! Sadly, I think most critics do feel this is a simplistic thriller, but I couldn't disagree more. But oh well, I really enjoyed it!

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    2. Well, I just downloaded it from Amazon, so we'll see which side I'll land on. :-) I hope it does justice to Lippman's novel, which reads like popular fiction but is actually quite complex and interesting.

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    3. I think the film is very complex and interesting too. Eager to hear your thoughts!

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  7. I was curious about this movie, but kind of lost interest after i saw it's pretty bad reviews on RT. After this review however i'm very excited to check it out. I definitely trust your reviews more than the random guys over there.

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    1. Thanks man! I knew very little about it when I saw it. But in researching it after, I was baffled by its RT score. But, you know, oh well. I loved the hell out of it.

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  8. It sound interesting. I will give it a watch. Rotten Tomatoes sucks. Mediocre shit gets Fresh but controversial masterpieces get rotten.

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    1. Yes! Exactly. Very well said, my friend.

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  9. The talent here is very large indeed but unfortunately I do not share your love for this film my friend. I found this to be a very tedious and dull film that was quite ugly to look at imo. The whole thing looked like it was shot through an instagram filter and by the end I was sick of looking at it. The performances are fine, but nothing more than that. I think it's quite easy to say this is Lane's best role since Unfaithful because pretty much everything else she's been in she's really been given nothing to do lol. She was easily the best part of this for me. Banks I thought was decent, though I did prefer her more dramatic turn in last year's Little Accidents more than here where I actually think she was kind of miscast to be honest. I just never felt she really settled into this role. Then there's Fanning who I thought was given absolutely nothing to do in here. It's like she was in a handful of scenes with barely any lines (which in some cases makes no difference, one can still leave a strong presence despite having little dialogue or screen time, as you have made clear many times on here in your In Character pieces) but here I was just left wondering why she even took the role. Danielle Macdonald was alright but I felt like her character wasn't given too much depth here. It's like, she's the "fat" girl and she has a very domineering mother, so she was shot in this ominous way.

    You know when I started this comment I didn't intend it to sound as angry as it probably wound up sounding lol. I didn't hate the whole movie, but I definitely could not say I was a big fan of it. I thought there were some very large problems with it (I didn't think they pissed me off as much as they did when I finished the film lol). Anyway, regardless - I am a fan of Berg's documentary work so I look forward to both her new docs coming up, but I will approach whatever fictional work she does after this with a bit more trepidation.

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    1. I get where you're coming from, and I didn't think you came off as angry either. I thought the film had a very Gone Girl aesthetic - dimly lit, mustard palette - so I dug it. And while I also wish Fanning's character was given more to do, I liked all of the performances a great deal. Can't agree on 'em all!

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  10. Nice review! I just saw the trailer yesterday and this looked so intriguing. All of the actresses look like they give compelling performances, especially Lane I just love her! Any chance you think we'll see Lane around Oscar time?

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    1. Thanks! Sadly, I think the movie is too small and too unliked for Lane to be remembered for any awards. Damn shame.

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  11. One more comment, now that I've seen the movie. I really like the way you deconstructed this film -- I agree that the narrative structure, including flashbacks from different points of view, worked very well. That's something I kinda wish I'd thought to mention in my post. ;-)

    I'm glad you recommended this or I probably would've skipped it based on the abysmal reviews. I didn't like it quite as much as you did (it was more of a B- movie for me) but still a definite thumbs up.

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    1. Oh, and I am now interested in checking out some of Amy Berg's documentaries. I scouted out her IMDB page, and she is clearly no stranger to painful, volatile topics.

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    2. I'm really glad you gave it a chance as well! Deliver Us From Evil is a very, very difficult movie to stomach. Like... it's bad. But a necessary film, certainly.

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  12. Glad you dug it, man. I still need to check it out.

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    1. I'd be really interested to hear what you think. I liked it a lot more than most.

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