Every Secret Thing (2014, Amy Berg)

There’s a lot to say about Every Secret Thing and nothing to say about it. And some things can only easily be phrased as complimentary insults, like Rob Hardy’s photography is valuable because the movie’s an object lesson in how not to photograph a film.

Or how director Berg’s a great example of why a director needs to be able to work with their actors and know what’s good and what’s not. It would also help if Berg were better at the visuals, but directing the actors would’ve made a big difference.

Though maybe not Diane Lane. Lane’s a celluloid vampire here. She sucks the life out of every frame. Well, every byte; Thing’s shot on video, so maybe Hardy’s just inept on the format. Though if he told Berg they could shoot a dark room with visible daylight under the shades and say it was nighttime… well, that one’s still on him.

Or maybe say something about Robin Coudert's omnipresent and lousy music. Billy McMillin and Ron Patane’s editing is about the only competent technical, and they clearly were cutting together a mess.

Because once you get past the snide not-compliments, Every Secret Thinghas serious problems. A lot of the acting’s terrible, some of it because the direction’s terrible, some of it because Nicole Holofcener’s script is terrible. I’m sure not all of it is Holofcener’s adaptation (the movie’s from Laura Lippman’s novel) because the narrative trickery and manipulation are straight out of middling crime novels. And, you know, incredibly famous crime thrillers, making the whole thing very predictable as far as villains, with some very convenient details withheld until the third act.

The film’s about eighteen-year-olds Danielle Macdonald and Dakota Fanning; they’ve just gotten out of juvie for kidnapping and killing a baby when they were eleven. There are flashbacks peppered throughout the film to reveal more and more about that incident, but Macdonald protests her innocence while Fanning mopes.

Now, the film will treat Macdonald as suspicious because she’s fat; mom Lane bullies her about it, and Macdonald talks about it at length to other characters. And the movie is all about demonizing her; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything do fatphobia as phrenology, but Every Secret Thing wants to be a pioneer.

Separate from that treatment of Macdonald’s character, the movie also has a lot to imply about interracial relationships between Black men and white women. There’s also a vice versa couple (Black lady, white man) around too, but the film’s distracted during those scenes because they can do a “poor people are classless” thing instead.

So, again, the best worst things about Every Secret Thing are technical incompetencies because they distract from the more problematic issues.

Anyway.

Another little girl goes missing, and the original baby’s mother goes to cops Elizabeth Banks and Nate Parker and says to investigate the recently released duo. Banks was the uniform cop who found the dead baby, and she’s still got PTSD. It’s not actually important because there’s no character development in the movie, just timed reveals. Because it’s terrible.

Who took the baby, and will the good guys get there in time. There’s inherent tension—especially since the parents, played by Sarah Sokolovic and Common, are very sympathetic. Common because everyone treats him like shit for being a Black guy, including Black cop Parker. The movie threatens to explore Parker’s hostility but thankfully does not.

Acting-wise, the best performance is… Banks. Kind of by default. Macdonald’s bad in a terrible part, Fanning’s not good in a terrible part, Lane’s “pull out the thesaurus” bad. Sokolovic and Common are better than the main cast, same with Parker. But, of course, it doesn’t help the flashback children actors—Brynne Norquist and Eva Grace Kellner—are lousy, and Berg has even less ability directing kids than adults.

For a second, it’s nice to see Julito McCullum (Namond, Wee-Bay’s kid on “The Wire”) in a tiny part, but then you realize he’s in this movie. Sure enough, Thing ruins it.

Because Every Secret Thing is faulty. Sometimes it’s worse than faulty, but it’s always faulty.

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