SECRET DEFENSE, which translates as Top Secret, finds Jacques Rivette sprinkling his magic dust on a routine story about a young woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) snagged between impotence and aggression in the search for her father's murderer. It's Hamlet in slow-motion. Rivette has the hungry eye of a voyeur combined with the sad heart of a wounded romantic. Under his watchful gaze, the most innocuous act creaks with foreboding; he very subtly makes you squirm for a full 90 minutes. Only one problem. In Secret Defense, there are still another 80 to go.
In David Mamet's intricate thriller, The Spanish Prisoner (above), Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) develops a top-secret formula. His boss (Ben Gazzara) is demanding his signature to secure loyalty, but an enigmatic new acquaintance (Steve Martin) warns Joe that he is about to be swindled. A playful exercise in twisting plausibility and expectations.