Review: Every Secret Thing
PLOT: Following their eighteenth birthdays, two girls, Ronnie (Dakota Fanning) and Alice (Danielle Macdonald) are released back into the community, having been sent to juvenile hall for the kidnapping and murder of an infant. Now pariahs, the two find themselves as the primary suspects when another baby goes missing, and it's up to the detective (Elizabeth Banks) who previously caught them to determine whether the girls are innocent or not.
REVIEW: EVERY SECRET THING is another one of those movies where you just scratch your head and wonder, what went wrong? It's based on an acclaimed novel, it's written by indie darling Nicole Holofcener (who's never made a bad movie) and it marks the narrative debut of renowned documentary filmmaker Amy Berg (DELIVER US FROM EVIL, WEST OF MEMPHIS). Certainly, her documentary background would have been the ideal fit for a movie sporting a plot that could have been ripped out of the headlines.
Whatever the case, EVERY SECRET THING goes horribly awry early on and never recovers. For all the timeliness of the story, the decision has been made to make this a period piece, taking place in the early nineties which alone gives the audience some distance. This is a minor fact, as very little is done to evoke the era except to give Nate Parker's character a (conservative) high top hairstyle and a mustache. Still, it feels like adding social media to the story could have only enhanced its dramatic prospects.
Herein seems to lie Berg's failing as a fiction director there's very little drama or character development. While in a documentary subjects can tell their stories in a matter-of-fact way, the thing that makes it dramatic is that it's real. EVERY SECRET THING doesn't have that. The characters are never given any development or motivation. It feels like a TV movie, and pretty shoddy one at that.
What's puzzling is that some of the actors are so good, and with a better dramatic handle this could have really been something. Elizabeth Banks is the de-facto lead, with her character having been traumatized by discovering the dead infant and terrified that she'll be powerless to stop another death. Yet, her presence here is constantly undercut, with too many cop cliches, including a puzzling bit where Nate Parker as her partner antagonizes Common as the adopted dad of the missing girl due to the way he dresses. It feels phony and what's really weird is how Banks' supposedly conscientious cop tolerates it.
What's even worse is the way to the two girls are depicted. Dakota Fanning is a terrific, subtle actress but her screen-time feels oddly truncated. You never feel for her. By comparison, the other girl as played by Danielle Macdonald is way over the top, being too obvious a red herring from the first scene. The same goes for her near-psychotic mom, as played by Diane Lane in an uncharacteristically poor performance (although she's not particularly to blame all things considered).
It's a real shame EVERY SECRET THING didn't work out because all the ingredients are there. It's like something got screwed up in the recipe along the way, and the resulting film is a mess that probably wouldn't even pass muster as a Lifetime Original. Too bad as everyone involved from the director to the writer to the cast are capable of so much more.