Every Secret Thing


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Every Secret Thing
"What makes this film so much more than a thriller is the very terrible human emotional territory it dares to venture in."

The sudden realisation that the person you are calmly talking to is actually completely mad and utterly unpredictable can push a story forward with great bursts of volatile movement, as it does in Amy Berg's skillful fiction feature debut Every Secret Thing which had its world premiere at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.

When Krzysztof Kieslowski explained his switch from making documentaries, he said that only fiction allowed him to go into some of the painful corners of truth. Berg's documentaries, such as the Oscar nominated Deliver Us From Evil (2006), about instances of pedophilia hidden by the Catholic Church, deal with justice and innocence and so does Every Secret Thing.

Copy picture

The opening scenes show a pre-teenage girl (Brynne Norquist) and her mother (Diane Lane) playing together. The girl wants her nails painted. It is 11 o'clock at night. "Let's make cookies," the two agree. Everything is out of time here between Alice Manning and her mother Helen, although movie convention short-cuts might tell you otherwise. Berg trusts her superb cast, anchored around Lane who gives one of the most dexterous and delicate performances of her career. She also trusts her audience to have faith in their instincts to fall for the fine-drawn deceptions and to rebound back into the story.

Little Alice has a playmate her own age called Ronnie Fuller (Eva Grace Kellner) who comes by the house to pick her up for a children's birthday pool party in the neighborhood. This happened three days earlier, a title on the screen informs us, and time, at the end of this tale, is of the essence. "Look at your cute figure," the mother compliments Ronnie and ever so tenderly humiliates her own chubby daughter who is sporting a one-piece bathing suit with a flower sprouting from a cut-out at the belly button. The two girls don't like each other and, as the birthday party quickly shows, the other girls don't like either of them very much.

Shifting perspectives on the characters' thoughts and speculations deprive the spectator of self-righteous positioning.

The screenplay, written by Nicole Holofcener and based on the novel by Laura Lippman, is about a baby being kidnapped and killed, the crime for which Ronnie and Alice serve seven years. Back in town after doing their time, Ronnie, now played by Dakota Fanning, and Alice (Danielle Macdonald), resume their lives until another child, a toddler, goes missing. Elizabeth Banks plays Detective Nancy Porter who was involved in the initial case and together with her new partner, Detective Kevin Jones (Nate Parker), she tries to make sense of what really happened then to prevent another crime now.

What makes this film so much more than a thriller is the very terrible human emotional territory it dares to venture in. Everyday cruelties are destroying the characters, the big crime is only the interval between casual detestations.

Alice wanders around town and calls it exercise - with a gigantic soft-drink in her hand. "No one ever believes the fat girl," she tells the female detective, "especially someone like you." Ronnie now works in a bagel shop, widening the gap.

Berg shows us more acute family background - the trailer home Ronnie comes from and Helen Manning's insistence on creativity as an art teacher in the local school. Cowardly community dynamics are hinted at and race functions mostly as a marker, whereas the bottomless pit of torn motherhood holds the secret of who is scary good and who is even better. Where there's wild longing, fairness goes out the wide-open window.

Reviewed on: 30 Apr 2014
Share this with others on...
Every Secret Thing packshot
Two young women with a dark past come under suspicion when a child goes missing.

Director: Amy Berg

Writer: Nicole Holofcener, based on the book by Laura Lippman

Starring: Elizabeth Banks, Dakota Fanning, Diane Lane, Nate Parker, Colin Donnell, Bill Sage, Renee Goldsberry, Clare Foley, Julito McCullum, Tonye Patano, Lily Pilblad, Sarah Sokolovic, Jack Gore, Danielle Macdonald, Jason Pendergraft

Year: 2014

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2014
EIFF 2015

Search database: