Thursday, April 22, 2010

Movie Review: The Secret in Their Eyes

The Secret in Their Eyes *** ½
Directed By:
Juan Jose Campanella.
Written By: Juan Jose Campanella & Eduardo Sacheri based on the novel by Sacheri.
Starring: Ricardo Darín (Benjamín Esposito), Soledad Villamil (Irene Menéndez Hastings), Pablo Rago (Ricardo Morales), Javier Godino (Isidoro Gómez), Guillermo Francella (Pablo Sandoval), José Luis Gioia (Inspector Báez), Carla Quevedo (Liliana Coloto).

It’s 1974 in Buenos Aires. A beautiful young woman is raped and murdered in her apartment. The DA assigned to the case is Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) who is disgusted by the crime scene. When the police bring in a suspect, who has even confessed, Esposito throws them out. It’s clear to him that the police strong armed a mentally unstable man into confessing to a crime he did not commit. He has a suspect in mind. This is Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino), who he has seen in old photographs looking at the victim in a way that makes him uncomfortable. To raise his suspicions even more, Gomez has taken off – leaving his apartment, his mother and his job behind. A year goes by and everyone else moves unto other cases. But Esposito cannot let this one go. It’s not because the crime itself was so brutal, or even that the killer remains free. It’s because the husband of the dead woman, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) had a look in his eyes of pure love for his wife. It’s the kind of love that Esposito had never seen before, or felt himself, and it haunts him.

This is the setup for Juan Jose Campanula’s The Secret in Their Eyes, an uncommonly intelligent thriller from Argentina. The movie flashes back and forth through time – from the mid-70s when the original investigation took place, and 1999, when Esposito, now retired, plans to write a book on the case that has haunted him for the last quarter century.

The first hour of the movie is quite good – involving, intelligently written and performed, and quite well directed by Campanella. Even the inevitable romantic subplot, between Esposito and his new boss Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), is handled well. Darin and Villamil have great chemistry together, and you can feel the sexual tension between them, that neither really act on. She is young, beautiful and the daughter of a man with connections. He is older, more broken down, and has a solid career – but nothing spectacular. They want each other, but both wait for the other one to make a move.

What I admired in this part of the film is the subtlety of the filmmaking. The movie is called The Secret in Their Eyes, and that’s an apt title, as Campanella likes to give us close-ups of the actors eyes, which tell us more than pages of dialogue would have. The first half of the movie was very good in the way that foreign language films that are popular in North America are – that is, the film doesn’t really feel like a foreign film, just a Hollywood movie with subtitles.

But the second half of the movie kicks things up a notch, and this is really where the film goes from a good thriller, into a near great one. It starts with a breathless chase through a soccer stadium – shot in seemingly one, unbroken shot which I’m still trying to figure out how they did it. It is followed by a great interrogation sequence that would have fit right in among the best scenes on Homicide: Life on the Street, which contains the best interrogation sequences I have ever seen. And then the movie keeps twisting, yet it never feels like something out of a screenwriter’s playbook, but rather it comes naturally from the story and the characters. The one moment that is a little too much overkill, is easily explained by the fact that the movie is a loving look back by a man who was infatuated at the time. The movie remains intelligent and well made right up until the shocking conclusion.

Note: I saw this movie at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, before it was nominated and ended up winning the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year. While I do not think it comes close to matching fellow nominees The White Ribbon (which ranked very highly on my top 10 list last year) or A Prophet (which will undoubtedly rank very highly on this year’s list) – it is a fine winner. Or at the very least a hell of a lot better than last year’s winner, Departures, from Japan, or many recent winners. I would say in the past decade only The Lives the Others, The Barbarian Invasions and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were better.

1 comment:

  1. I would give it 5 stars, it was a huge success and it won the Oscar. Maybe I´m biased because I was in Argentina by the time the movie was released. I was staying in one of those buenos aires apartments you rent near the movie theatre so I went to see it. Not only did I feel connected with the story and the country´s period but also identified with the characters. We don´t know, but Argentineans are similar to us because they have the same history: it is a country of immigrants.