Argentina’s Oscar winner no longer a secret in the U.S.
At first glance, Juan Jose Campanella’s Academy Award winner (Best Foreign Language) looks like a television procedural, Law & Order: Buenos Aires. Writer-director Campanella certainly has the background for the procedural elements here. In fact, he has directed episodes of The Guardian and House as well as two members of the Law & Order franchise: Criminal Intent and Special Victims Unit. Still, The Secret in Their Eyes digs far deeper into the personal lives of these driven professionals in its effort to engage the audience.
Retired criminal court employee Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) half-heartedly dreams of writing a novel, but can’t quite find the inspiration he needs, so he delves into an unsolved case from his past for material. A beautiful young woman, raped and murdered, lies exposed at the crime scene, crying out for justice. Her husband, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), is overwhelmed with grief, but steadfastly attempts to search for the suspect on his own. Esposito and Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), a loyal co-worker with a strong penchant for drinking himself into oblivion, work the case, against colossal odds and bureaucratic incompetence, but encounter major roadblocks at every turn. In addition, Esposito must also suppress his passion for the beautiful Irene Menendez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), his superior on the case, a lawyer on the fast track, both professionally and personally, while Esposito stews on the sidelines.
Of course, Esposito uncovers evidence to break the case, through an illegal search that leads to Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino). But after a thrilling chase that takes place at a stadium during a soccer match the massive cover-up begins with governmental intrigue, secret police cleaning up loose ends, and false trails galore.
In some ways, Secret serves as a companion to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Esposito is a white knight, much like Tattoo’s Mikael Blomkvist, an idealized white knight who barely seems real in comparison to those around him. They are men from another age, a Romantic time of honor and virtue, but each gets paired with a realist guide. Blomkvist has his Lisbeth Salander, and Esposito has the alcoholic Sandoval who is the real soul, or better yet, the irregular heartbeat that gives life to Esposito. Francella shines without wrestling control away from the broodingly handsome Darin, the lovely Villamil, or the escalating mystery. Sandoval knows the real secret is passion, which he tells Esposito, but it is Francella’s performance that shows us the truth of passion in the flesh.
Yet, The Secret in Their Eyes falls a bit short of the greatness of Tattoo, and more importantly, The White Ribbon, which it bested in the Oscar race. Secret, despite its tense and engaging quest for the truth and romantic longing, takes the viewer by the hand and ushers us along its journey. It doesn’t race ahead of us, daring us to keep up, like Hitchcock or today’s pretzel logic neo-noirist. And it, in its final revelatory moments, doesn’t shock us with real secrets of darkness in the human heart.
The Secret in Their Eyes will be shown exclusively at the Neon Movies