International filmmakers as diverse as Jean Renoir, Claude Berri, and Park Chan-wook have been inspired by Émile Zola, but English adaptations of his novels are harder to come by. Here, first-time feature director Charlie Stratton tackles Zola’s 1867 breakthrough Thérèse Raquin (by way of Neal Bell’s adaptation for the stage) for a psychological drama that is well-appointed and smartly cast, but only dips a toe into the depths available to it.
Thérèse (Olsen) – an orphan raised by her smothering aunt, Madame Raquin (Lange) – is a powder keg of untapped passion who is bullied into marrying the sickly cousin, Camille (Felton), she’s always considered a brother, never a lover. Enter Laurent (Isaac), a wannabe painter who befriends Camille and works his way into the Raquin home. With the puppyish Camille and his helicoptering mom, Laurent is all smiles, but with Thérèse, he turns on the smoldering eyes.
Isaac and Olsen are both mesmerizing actors, and Lange and Felton also do very good work in supporting roles, but their collective gameness – all that acting their pants off (sometimes literally) – is underserved by the film’s script and direction. Stratton lavishes screen time on the early ardor of Thérèse and Laurent, overloading the first half of the film and then lurching his way through the big dramatic beats that come after. The corrosive quality of guilt is tantalizing stuff, but it’s interior, and fashioning a whole movie around that requires a kind of tuning forklike sensitivity to the subtle ways that relationships grow, or wither. Paradoxically, In Secret probes these troubled minds from an arm’s-length remove.
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