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The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

May 20, 2010

8/10 Criminal Intents

A familiar story very well-told.

The Secret in Their Eyes is about a retired lawyer in Argentina who rekindles an ambiguous friendship with his former colleague/head-over-heels love interest while researching one of his old cases that’s been at the back of his mind for going on three decades to use as the basis for his first novel. So we travel back 25 years to when the case falls into the lawyer’s lap as he begins his hunt for a young woman’s killer after she’s been raped and murdered in her home, leaving her husband grief-stricken and determined to see  justice served as outside forces continually conspire to block their efforts.

So the only reason I even went to see this in the first place is probably the same reason a lot of other people are now seeing it as well, because it’s always a bit surprising when a movie no one’s even heard of takes out a shoo-in at the Oscars. Granted, this is still the only foreign film from last year that I’ve even gotten around to viewing, so I have no idea if it’s up to snuff with The White Ribbon or A Prophet, but on its own, I was surprised by how much I liked it.

It’s from a director I’ve never heard of, it features a cast of actors who I’m just now seeing for the first time, I didn’t even know this movie existed until it was announced as a nominee and it’s from a country that I didn’t even know made movies (but apparently they make some of the best movies out there according to my Argentinian friend, Nahuel). Yeah, I definitely didn’t have this one down on my Oscar ballot, but hey, a good movie’s a good movie even if it did cost me a victory this year.

The story plays out like a murder mystery with our crew of legal experts acting as makeshift detectives who keep taking two steps forward and one step back thanks to a suspect legal system and a couple folks who would rather let sleeping dogs lie. Like I said, it’s a familiar premise and the romantic plot line between our two lawyers seems to fall by the wayside in contrast to some of the far more interesting aspects of the plot, but it’s still got a well-written, borderline badass script backing up some pretty effing wild scenes.

Let me tell ya’, director Juan Jose Campanella has put together one intense little ditty here. This is like Zodiac intense, stuff that quietly sneaks up on you when you’re already on edge and stops those lungs from functioning properly until the next scene boots up. There’s one lengthy foot chase scene in particular that goes down at a soccer (or shall I say football) match that’s nothing short of astonishingly well-filmed and reminded me a heck of a lot of the kind of things that Alfonso Cuaron pulled off in Children of Men. It’s just one of numerous scenes that were very much the bomb and hard to forget that helped to elevate the story from ordinary to Oscar-worthy.

The cast is also fantastic and considering that it’s sometimes hard for me to judge someone’s performance when I’m trying to simultaneously read everything they’re saying, this is worth mentioning. Everyone’s very cool and collected and do so without trying too hard; it makes them believably hardened folks without coming off as the Argentinian Sam Spades, and I dig that. Not sure if I’ll ever see them again unless I get on some South American film festival kick, but I hope this gets them recognized all the same.

But is it Best Foreign Language Film quality? Eh, I guess.

The Secret in Their Eyes is a really good movie and it’s got a lot of things going for it, but with the exception of its final Act, there isn’t a whole lot about its story that’s gonna ring new and it also feels kinda long even at two hours and change. But it still packs a wallop, it’s an interesting meditation on the forces that drive us in life and it’s absolutely worth seeking out even if the weak title isn’t doing it any favors.

Can’t wait to see the competition this was up against.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2010 12:36 am

    Glad to know it’s good! Can’t wait to get the nostalgia flowing when I watch this movie….

  2. May 20, 2010 6:54 am

    I had no idea about this film and then it all of a sudden won Best Foreign Film?? I’ve been needing to check this out lately but it just does seem way too familiar.

  3. Pablo Chiste permalink
    May 24, 2010 2:22 pm

    While I think White Ribbon was a bit more profound, The Secret In Their Eyes was a honorable choice for best foreign pic. Here’s a link to my review…

  4. May 24, 2010 3:51 pm

    Hey, great review. I really love this movie, I’d give it a 5/5, though it didn’t deserve the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, A Prophet did, which was my favorite movie of 2009. Great review nonetheless.

    • May 24, 2010 3:55 pm

      Thanks, man. Damn, I really need to check out A Prophet already. Kicking myself that I missed that one.

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