Film Review: The Secret in their Eyes (El Secreto De Sus Ojos)

Soledad Villamil as Irene Menendez and Ricardo Darin as Benjamin Esposito

This Argentine movie was the surprise winner in the Best Foreign Film category at this year’s Oscars. It was up against some stiff competition, chiefly Michael Haneke’s ‘The White Ribbon’ and French crime drama ‘A Prophet’. Perhaps these two critical darlings managed to split the vote and allow ‘The Secret in their Eyes to sneak up to the podium. Well, as it turns out the victory was very much deserved because ‘The Secret in their Eyes’ is first class film making and utterly gripping from start to finish.

The film’s story begins in 1999, with retired Criminal Court employee Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) struggling to write a novel based on the great unsolved case of his career. This was the rape and murder of a newly-wed bride in 1974. During his investigation, Esposito had spotted a small detail in a photograph belonging to the victim which had led him to suspect a young man called Isidoro Gómez (Javier Godino) to be the killer.  By this time, Esposito’s rival in the justice department had already pinned the crime on a couple of migrant workers, accelerating a feud between the two investigators which was to have devastating consequences later on.

Esposito’s theory met a wall of indifference from his superiors but with the help of two loyal colleagues, Pablo (Guillermo Francella) and Irene (Soledad Villamil,) he managed to track Gómez down and deliver him to a justice which proved to be short-lived. For Esposito, the problems were only just beginning, as political upheaval in Argentina and personal vendettas against both him and his allies had put all their lives in mortal danger.

Twenty-five years later, Esposito returns to the case hoping to clear up some questions and lay his own personal demons to rest so that he can live the rest of his life in peace and maybe finish his book.  There is also the matter of facing up to his unrequited love for the beautiful Irene which still burns strongly within him.

‘The Secret in their Eyes’ is a damn good thriller which has many a twist and turn of fortune leading to a most satisfying conclusion.  There are several layers to the film, however, and it has something to say about human nature, the overwhelming weight of memory and our need to achieve a sense of completion in our lives before we can finally move on.

The neat trick of director and writer Juan José Campanella is not to focus entirely on the initial crime itself but instead to portray the long-lasting affect it had on all of those involved. These include the murdered woman’s husband (Pablo Rego) who sets out on his own quest to ensure that the killer receives a suitable punishment.  For Gómez, merely becoming a suspect changes the course of his life forever.

At the forefront is the story of Benjamin and Irene whose love for each other is thwarted initially by circumstance and then by the sinister turn of events. Campanella has expanded the romantic aspect of the story in his adaptation of Eduardo Sacheri’s original novel and his film is all the better for it.  These are characters that we can genuinely care about and this more human side prevents the film from becoming ‘CSI Buenos Aries.’

Not that the film is devoid of action. There is bravura sequence set at a football game, where our ‘heroes’ chase their suspect across the terraces, fighting against the motion of the swaying crowd as if caught on the waves of an ocean.  The acts of violence, especially the murder, are quite brutal but then these are chaotic, vicious times with Argentina on the verge of rule by military junta and sudden death on the streets already a regular occurrence.

Former soap actor Ricardo Darin, who you might recognise from the con-movie ‘Nine Queens,’ is a formidable presence as Esposito but there are many fine performances in the film. Probably the best of all is Guillermo Francella as the downbeat and seedy Pablo who, when not drinking himself insensible in the local bar, is a man of great intuition and insight.  This is a scene- stealing role which is sad and amusing, tragic yet oddly inspiring.  When Pablo finally works out, with the help of his barfly buddies, the way to track down their suspect he makes a wonderful speech about how a man can change everything about his life except his loyalty to his soccer team.

‘The Secret in their Eyes’ will undoubtedly be one of the best films of the year and will remain in your thoughts some time after the credits have rolled. Maybe in the past, you have found yourself doubting the judgement of Oscar voters but, rest assured; this time around they have shown admirable taste.

The Secret In Their Eyes (18). Running time: 129min.

About Alan Diment

Is a freelance writer and film critic. A total film buff who lives and breathes movies.

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