Carla Quevedo, Javier Godino
- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by David Medsker
nly someone outside of the United States would think to set “The Remains of the Day” in a 1970s Federal building. Indeed, it’s fitting that “The Secret in Their Eyes,” which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, takes place largely in the ‘70s, as the story is quite simple in its approach. Perhaps the most shocking thing about this movie is that it won the Oscar. Usually it’s the movie about genocide or oppression, or anything set in Nazi Germany, that wins the Foreign Language prize, not the gritty crime thriller.
The movie’s present is set in 1999, where retired Federal Agent Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) sits down to write a book about an unsolved case from 1974 that haunts him to this day. A 23-year-old school teacher named Liliana (Carla Quevedo) is found brutally raped and murdered. Esposito’s rival, the morally compromised Romano (Mariano Argento), closes the case after extracting confessions from two maintenance men, but Esposito takes one look at them and knows they’re innocent. As he counsels Liliana’s widower Ricardo (Pablo Rago) and promises him justice, Esposito and his assistant Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) think they’ve found a promising lead in a friend of Liliana’s from back home, while Esposito tries to come to grips with his unrequited feelings for the otherwise engaged office lawyer Irene (Soledad Villamil).
For an Argentinean film, there is some serious production value buried beneath the hair color and bad suits, which makes sense given director Juan Jose Campanella’s lengthy resume directing American television. There is a tracking shot in the middle of the movie that puts the one from “Atonement” to shame, and the big climax is edited like a pro. (To draw a comparison to a similar American movie would be to spoil the ending.) Perhaps the most surprising thing about “The Secret in Their Eyes” is its sense of humor. This is not the kind of movie where you’d expect a running gag about one of the characters playing pranks on everyone who calls his work phone number, but there you are.
It’s admittedly difficult to rate actors when there’s a language barrier, since you can never tell if they’re reading their lines properly, but Darin is immensely likable, even when he’s doing not-so-likable things. Very few of the other actors are what one would call flashy, but that is exactly what the movie needed. It also opens the floor for Javier Godino, who waltzes in mid-movie and pretty much steals it as Esposito’s prime suspect in the murder. He doesn’t have a tremendous amount of screen time, but he takes part in two holy shit moments that will have audiences buzzing.
“The Secret in Their Eyes” is a best-of-both-worlds affair, combining old-school storytelling with modern-day technique. If we’re lucky, this movie will become the new model for how to assemble a crime movie, and as an added bonus, it has a big heart, too. Do not let the language barrier get in the way – this is a must-see film.