When the 2009 Academy Awards happened, there were a lot of shockers. Hurt Locker beating out Avatar, Precious winning best adapted screenplay over Up in the Air. But the biggest shocker for me was the fact that The White Ribbon didn’t win Best Foreign Language Film. I thought the movie was flawless — a masterpiece. I would have been happy if my personal pick A Prophet would have won. But neither did — some Argentinean movie, The Secret In Their Eyes, that I had never heard of did. From that point on I was curious to see it, and now my curiosity has been filled. The verdict? You’ll have to read and find out.
The Secret In Their Eyes is a detective, thriller, romance movie with a touch of comedy. It revolves around a retired detective, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), who now wants to write a book based off the Morales case — a case he investigated 25 years ago that ended with a lot of questions unanswered. The tragic case was of a girl who was raped and murdered; the things uncovered during the investigation were of epic proportions. The movie jumps back and forth between when the investigation took place and the now, as Benjamin tries to recall the events from memory. Intertwined, is a side plot in which Benjamin falls for his younger and wealthier boss, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil).
If the plot sounds complex, that’s because it is — it’s full of rich creative writing and it is definitely the best part of the movie. The movie also contains amazing direction, good acting, fantastic cinematography, art direction, costume design — I think you get the idea. Yes, this is a great movie, but how great?
The first aspect of the movie I’ll critique is the direction. The Secret In Their Eyes was masterfully directed by Juan Jose Campanella. Juan’s skills behind the camera are undeniable; everything about it is done with precision. From the simple shots to the most complex, he infuses a powerfulness behind them so strong it literally enhances the movie’s reception. His camera work reminded me a lot of Alfonso Cuaron and the work he did in one of my all time favorites Children of Men. It has a gritty feeling to it, and the camera seems to be in constant motion, a controlled motion, mind you, not shaky cam. I HATE SHAKY CAM!
An example of what I’m talking about is a single cut shot (definitely my favorite kind of shot in movie history) that captures five minutes or so of perfection. It starts with an overhead view of a soccer stadium with loud, roaring fans, and it slowly pans in. We eventually get to Benjamin and his partner Pablo (Guillermo Francella) as they believe the prime suspect will be there. They shift through the crowd until they finally find the man they’re looking for. From there on, a high-octane, on-foot pursuit of the suspect transpires — leading us from the seating into a bathroom and a jump off of a balcony. And although the camera gets shaky at times, it doesn’t matter here — every single moment in it is pure adrenaline. My jaw little dropped in awe due to this brilliantly crafted scene.
Ricardo Darin shows some acting chops (he has been called a Pacino like actor) — playing both the young and old Benjamin. The young is a fiery detective who seeks the truth; the old is a worn out man with a solemn look in his eye — he wants to recall the past while at the same time wanting to forget it. There are, however, some dramatic moments where it seems like he is always in the same mood (except for when he is in awestruck by his love interest that will never happen). Nonetheless, he definitely has what it takes to be a great actor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is a huge star in Argentina.
The supporting cast further solidifies The Secret In Their Eyes. Soledad Villamil is good as Benjamin’s boss and his “Juliet”. She, like Ricardo, really does nothing overly memorable, but does the part right. (Her character is similar to his also — a young and old; fiery and worn out). The real highlights, though, come from two of the three supporting men. Guillermo Francella, Benjamin’s partner and the hilarious comic relief in the movie and Pablo Rago as Riacardo Morales, the husband of the victim. Guillermo definitely deserved his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor — he made me believe he was the character. He plays the part so well, in fact, that in one dramatic scene I felt my heart break. Pablo is also heartbreaking, but that’s what the character is. He pulls out your heart strings and doesn’t let go. To this day I still vividly remember his face and every single solitary expression. Javier Godino as Gomez, the prime suspect, had more of a physical role, speaking very little. However, he just looked the part and that was good enough for me.
The story, penned by Juan Jose Campanella from the book by Eduardo Sacheri is definitely one of the best of the year, maybe the decade. It has all the elements to make a great movie — comedy, thrills, suspense and romance — and it blends them so perfectly into a story that is engaging from start to finish (although it did feel a tad long). This is a movie for the ages, having all the prerequisites to be a classic. It’s brilliantly done, maybe even deserving the award for Best Adapted screenplay.
Overall, The Secret In Their Eyes is a fantastic movie. It is at number five of my top ten of 2009, and a movie that I would love to watch again and again. As said before, it’s a powerful story with amazing direction and a talented cast. It is a must see.