3 1/2 (out of five stars)
Director: Charlie Stratton
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange
Rated: R for sexual content and brief violent images
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
There have been many stage and screen adaptations of "Therese Raquin," Emile Zola's 1867 novel about love and betrayal. Perhaps most notable was filmmaker Marcel Carne's 1953 version, "The Adultress," starring Simone Signoret and Raf Vallone.
"In Secret" is the latest rendering of Zola's bleak story. Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton and Jessica Lange offer compelling performances in a provocative remake that's stirring until its withered end.
Set in 1860s France, Therese (played seductively by Olsen) is sent to live with her aunt, Madame Raquin (Lange), an entitled and needy dame who forces her niece to marry her sickly son, Camille (played delicately and artfully by Felton).
When Camille gets a job as a clerk in Paris, the three move from the country to the bustling city, where Madame Raquin opens a fabric shop. Resigned to an uninspired life working in her aunt's store, Therese, who's become increasingly lascivious, is even welcoming the idea of sex with her effeminate cousin to satisfy her desires.
When she meets Laurent (Isaac), Camille's childhood friend, the two begin an erotic affair. Olsen and Isaac are extremely effective together and their lust-ridden scenes only intensify. As Therese and Laurent continue to sneak around, their devotion deepens.
Uninhibited and raw, Isaac is at his sexiest. In his first lead role since starring in the Coen brothers' Oscar-nominated "Inside Llewyn Davis," he offers another authentic performance and we see his talents swell in many directions. He shifts from charming and arousing to dark and devious while seducing Therese and leading her down a murderous path.
To be together, Laurent devises a plan to kill Camille and make it look like an accident. Therese agrees to be an accomplice and the deed is done.
With her cousin dead, Therese is faced with increasing guilt and begins to lash out, including a tirade against Laurent on their wedding night. The couple then begins to unravel. It's here that Madame Raquin starts to gain heavy sympathy. Lange plays a grieving mother, going from agonized to helpless, so poignantly that your heart breaks for her.
This is the first feature film for writer and director Charlie Stratton.
Unfortunately, the final act of the film seems to drag on. Therese and Laurent are caught in a tedious state of misery. While Zola's prose keeps us engaged in his couple's steady spiral downward, the film's conclusion could have come much sooner.