In Secret features a line from Oscar Isaac, the hardened folk singer of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, which could have been featured in either film. Laurent (Oscar Isaac) responds to why he has given up painting: “Do I look like a man who will starve for his art?” It’s a glib response that Isaac casually underplays. Yet it serves as a paramount reference point for his character. Unlike Llewyn Davis, Laurent is not ambitious, making due with life’s carnal pleasures above all. But it’s in this response that draws pensive regard from Thérèse (Elizabeth Olsen). Their subsequent relationship is a given - the adorning stares Laurent showers Thérèse is more affection than she’s received in her lifetime. Bridled to her ailing cousin (Tom Felton) and contending with an overbearing mother-in-law (Jessica Lange), the passionate glances between Laurent and Thérèse give way to many an afternoon of sun-soaked fuck sessions. This eventually comes to a head when guilt and death overwhelm the prospects of maintaining such intense passion. To convincingly realize this shift in dynamic, where once passionate lovers are stripped of their honeymoon period, requires a little bit of dramatic nuance - after all, it’s the sort of thing that’s been done. To this In Secret responds accordingly with two of the best young actors working today.
Among the more recent takes on Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, it’s been Park Chan-wook’s Thirst that complicated the proceedings the most - its intermingling of Zola’s text with Chan-wook’s own wicked visual humor made for the director’s best outing to date. Charles Stratton’s In Secret is far more traditional in its methods though it serves the text effectively. It stems from the gritty naturalism that’s provoked from Olsen and Isaac’s performances. Akin to the chemistry between Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska in Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre, both Olsen and Isaac provoke rawness to the period-piece material. And beautifully photographed by Florian Hoffmeister (The Deep Blue Sea), In Secret comes together as an immaculate, if not particularly surprising, production. Zola’s text lends itself to showy melodrama, and though supporting performances from Lange and Felton overdo it, Stratton keeps things leveled out. He’s not a particularly nuanced force behind the camera - this is first and foremost an actor’s showcase - but he certainly doesn’t do anything to hinder the naturalism between his two central actors.
Olsen’s received her fair share of acclaim following her performance in Sean Durkin’s haunting Martha Marcy May Marlene, though that acclaim seems to have diminished with every passing film. It’s a little perplexing. Not many actresses possess such a dominant, and at times, unbalanced presence. Even in Spike Lee’s Oldboy she propels an uneven effort largely based on her understanding of the tonal imbalance of the picture and working against it. That’s the sort of awareness that she’s able to bring to individual sequences in In Secret, where she modulates her dramatic output based on those she’s sharing the screen with. In Secret may not possess particular narrative or thematic traits that inspire critical adoration, but the performances at the film’s center are of an exceptional caliber.