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The Secret In Their Eyes

A Review of The 2009 Best Foreign Film Academy Award Winner

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating
User Rating 4 Star Rating (1 Review)

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The Secret In Their Eyes
Sony Pictures Classics
It all started with a beautiful corpse.

From the moment criminal court investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) saw the raped and murdered body of a 23 year old woman in 1974, he has been haunted by it, obsessively driven to find the killer in what becomes a personal mission.

Now, twenty-five years after the case is officially closed and marked unsolved, a retired Esposito has begun writing a novel based on the events. He returns to Buenos Aires’ marbled halls of justice to visit his former boss, Irene (Soledad Villamil), a no-nonsense beauty who's now a judge, and who Esposito has long been not-so-secretly in love with.

Through his conversations with Irene, and through memories stirred while writing the novel, Juan Jose Campanella's The Secret in Their Eyes jumps back and forth between the present (circa 2000) and 1974, as recollections of the crime and manhunt play out. What is always in question, however, is the dubious nature of remembrance, and the havoc that truth vs. conjecture can wreak on our behavior. When obsession enters the game, it’s especially dangerous. And, as Secret hammers home, not only can obsession destroy the object of its focus, but the person who builds up and unleashes it.

Immediately after viewing the body at the crime scene, Esposito sets to the task of obsessed sleuth, returning to the deceased’s apartment and meeting with her husband, Morales (Pablo Rago, a young Al Pacino lookalike). While leafing through Morales’ photo albums, Esposito believes he has found the killer, in a snapshot of an old acquaintance -- Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino) -- where a secret guilt is revealed through a look in his eyes.

Esposito soon engages the assistance of his colleague Pablo Sandoval (the comedic actor Guillermo Francella), and the odd couple set out together on a hunt for Gomez, leading them on a series of bungled breaks in, chases, and interrogations (some comic, some terrifying). It is Irene, however, through her own wily interrogation of Gomez (of which Gloria Steinem would be proud), that Gomez confesses. If only it were that easy to put an end to things. Soon Gomez is released from jail to become an agent with the Peron secret police, and Esposito and his colleagues are pitted against more danger. Through his unabating compulsion, Esposito ignites destruction and demise on both sides of the aisles -- the guilty and the innocent. The deeper he goes in trying to catch a killer, the deeper he gets caught in his own web.

As helmed by Juan Jose Campanella (the director of numerous Law and Order episodes in the U.S.), this winner of the 2009 Best Foreign Film Oscar is at once an artful legal thriller and a slightly stock and cliched TV crime show: Perry Mason Goes to Buenos Aires.

Filmed in brooding brown, yellow and brick hues, with enough cigarette smoke to give you contact emphysema, The Secret in Their Eyes is a meditation on memory, justice, corruption, lost chances, and love. The film sparkles with moments of witty banter and knuckleheaded antics bordering on Abbott and Costello, but there’s a sinister cloud which hangs over the action. Campanella has crafted more than a few fine edge-of-your-seat scenes, including a slow ride down an elevator with a killer and a chase through a soccer stadium.

While Secret purports that much of Benjamin’s trouble stems from unrequited love—that of Benjamin's for Irene, and perhaps vice-versa-- there’s an uncomfortable, squirmy sense that he has also fallen in love with the dead girl, and there is something creepily unsettling about the eroticized image of the corpse.

For all its atmospheric grittiness, a suspension of disbelief is required through much of the movie. In a filled-to-the-brim coliseum, the man they’re looking for is miraculously spotted in a crowd of thousands. Miniscule details in photos and letters attained by chance and luck immediately reveal gigantic clues. Offices are piled high with stacks of paper and swimming in chaos, yet somehow just what they’re looking for is right on top in full view.

The world in which these characters live, however, is one where things in-plain-sight and things mysteriously hidden intermingle uncomfortably. It’s a place where you never know what the truth is, or who your friends or enemies are, in both the personal and political spheres. This uncertainty abounds to the very end—right up until the extraordinarily chilling closing scene.

The Secret of Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos) Credits

Starring: Ricardo Darin, Guillermo Francella, Javier Godino, Pablo Rago (II), Soledad Villamil
Directed by: Juan Campanella
Produced by: Vanessa Ragone, Gerardo Herrero, Gerardo Herrero
Running Time: 2 hrs. 7 min.
Distributors: Sony Pictures Classics
User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 4 out of 5
The Secret In Their Eyes, Member Tarumatu

The Oscars rarely picks the correct ‘Best Picture’ but what were the odds of neither ‘A Prophet’ or ‘White Ribbon’ not winning the famous statue in 2010? So when the relatively unknown Argentinian film ‘The secret in their eyes’ pipped the aforementioned films, i took notice. I had to wait a long time to see it, and then my beloved Duke of Yorks cinema could only show it once, at 2:30pm on a wednesday afternoon! I had to go, leaving work early, my colleagues bemused why it was so important to see an Argentinian movie at such an odd hour! I’d recently seen another good Argentinian movie, XXY, which cast the same lead actor, Ricardo Darin, as in this film. ‘The Secret in their eyes’ centres around the murder of a young woman. Darin plays federal justice agent Benjamin Esposito, who is responsible for solving the murder, aided by his alcoholic assistant Pablo Sandoval, and his new boss Irene Menendez Hastings. What is essentially a formulaic plot is transformed by some superb acting and excellent direction. The film effortlessly weaves between a murder mystery and a love story, using flashback, current, and flash-forward techniques due to the story being told 25 years after the murder by Benjamin, now retired and decided to write a book about the murder. There are moments in the film that seem more at home as television melodrama, and the plot at times is shaky in its deductions. The ending felt like it was from a Stephen King novel, but no less affective and certainly caught me by surprise. As the title to the film suggests, everything is in their eyes, and the acting by everyone was excellent. Sandoval in particular, played by Guillermo Francello, is both hilarious and touching as the alcoholic sidekick. Beautifully paced direction from Juan Jose Campanella, with echoes of the best in Hollywood film noir. Overall, a wonderful film with many admirable qualities.

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