A cold case and thawing hearts
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, April 16, 2010
Oscar mavens will recognize "The Secret in Their Eyes" as one of the few genuine upsets at this year's ceremony. The Argentine drama wound up winning for Best Foreign Language Film, upending expectations that Jacques Audiard's superb "A Prophet" would take home the award.
Although fans of "A Prophet" aren't likely to change their minds about who got robbed that night, they will no doubt concede that "The Secret in Their Eyes," an elegant romantic thriller adapted from a novel of the same name, is a terrific film. An absorbing story of the unlikely intersection of an unrequited love affair and an unresolved crime, this taut thriller features some bravura cinematic moments and memorable performances from an exceptionally attractive cast of players.
"The Secret in Their Eyes" opens in the present day, when former prosecution investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darn), now retired, begins work on a novel about a case that has been haunting him since 1974, when a young woman was brutally raped and killed and the legal system failed to bring her killer to justice. When Benjamin takes a draft of his book to his former boss, Irene (Soledad Villamil), they begin to reminisce about their own relationship, professional and otherwise. Director Juan Jos Campanella smoothly navigates between past and present, and with each expertly timed revelation "The Secret in Their Eyes" begins to take on deeper layers of meaning that span Benjamin's personal feelings of culpability and the corrupt political backdrop of Argentina's notorious "Dirty War."
If the film's climactic twist borders on the luridly outlandish, Campanella deserves credit for staging it with restraint and for assembling a first-rate cast of seasoned actors. (Villamil, who resembles an Argentine Julie Christie, is a particular revelation.) A stunning unbroken take shot in the midst of a soccer match is worth the price of admission, ample reward for filmgoers whose only desire once the lights go down is to be astonished.
Contains a rape scene, violent images, graphic nudity and profanity. In Spanish with subtitles.