After defeating their own favorites A Prophet (Une Prophete) and The White Ribbon for the 2009 Best Foreign Language film Oscar, Sony Pictures Classics should be sitting pretty with its April domestic release date for Argentina’s triumphant The Secret In Their Eyes (El Secreto De Sus Ojos). Based on a novel by Eduardo Sacheri, this complex drama interweaves the private lives and passions of a state prosecution investigator and a judge with a 25 year old, unsolved murder case. With Oscar in hand business for this engrossing thriller, which became Argentina’s biggest home-grown box office hit in 35 years, should be steady and turn a nice profit for its distributor, who picked it up after hearing about ecstatic responses from its initial Academy screenings in October. Stateside business should also be good for this brilliantly crisp and intelligent grown-up entertainment.
Writer/ Director Juan José Campanella, previously Oscar nominated for his feel-good comedy Son Of The Bride in 2001, shows he hasn’t lost his touch with this vastly different and involving story that spans a quarter of century and is partially played out in flashbacks. Story is bookended by a recently retired criminal court investigator’s decision to write a novel based on an unsolved rape and murder that took place 25 years earlier. Still upset and privately tortured by the baffling case, Benjamin (Ricardo Darín) talks about his new project with Irene (Soledad Villamil), a judge and former colleague to whom he has never confessed a longtime hidden love. As the story switches from past to present and back again we learn of Benjamin’s many attempts to catch the murderer with the help of his oddball partner Sandoval (Guillermo Francella). Key to his pursuit and to his own unrequited feelings of love for the Judge are his past and present conversations with the victim’s still devoted husband, Ricardo (Pablo Rago). As the case soon appears to be over, Benjamin’s private and professional life comes unhinged with his relentless pursuit of the truth putting him and everyone around him at risk.
Campanella has laced his story with twists and turns worthy of Hitchcock and the framing device of the novel (which forces the protagonist to sort out the whole thing through writing) is ingenious. Without giving too much away, the ultimate resolution is haunting and completely unexpected but the audience will definitely walk away satisfied by the way things are tied up. Campanella, who has also carved out a career as a director of American TV dramas like Law And Order and House, never resorts to the easy way out and stays true to his character development throughout. His use of numerous close-ups of eyes is particularly striking
Darín, one of Argentina’s most successful stars, is superb in the role of a man haunted by his most egregious failures but, proving it is never too late, is determined to make amends. Villamil, who doesn’t appear to have aged at all in the 25 year span of the film, is a beautiful presence while Francella (the country’s top comic) is both hilarious and touching as Benjamin’s quirky partner. Rago is first-rate in his few but key scenes.
More accessible than the other four foreign lingo films the Academy nominated this year, The Secret In Their Eyes should find wide acceptance by both connoisseurs of arthouse product and fans of smart movies aimed squarely at the forgotten adult market.
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino and Guillermo Francella,
Director/Screenwriter: Juan José Campanella
Producers: Gerardo Herrero, Mariela Besuievsky and Juan José Campanella.
Rating: R for a rape scene, some violent images, graphic nudity and language
Running time: 129 min.
Release date: April 16 NY/LA