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The Secret in Their Eyes Review


RATING:
(3 STARS)

Many were surprised when Argentina’s submission to the 2010 Best Foreign Film Oscar race, Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes, took home the top prize. It didn’t have even nearly the same buzz as the French submission, A Prophet, or the German submission, The White Ribbon, but the more traditional approach to storytelling won out over quality this time. Of the three films in the race that I saw, The Secret in Their Eyes is the worst. It has some tonal issues, and the pace is a little slow-going for a while, but it’s still a solid piece of work. It’s definitely emotionally involving, and the actors acquit themselves well. There’s just nothing exceptional about it. And when you inevitably compare it to its fellow nominees, it falls a little short.

The film follows two chronologies, both of which feature the same main characters. Benjamin (Ricardo Darin) is a retired legal counselor who is still haunted by an unsolved rape/murder case. He decides to use his free time to write a novel about it. One of the perks of writing this novel is a chance to reconnect with Irene (Soledad Villamil), his former boss whom he has always harbored strong feelings for. As Benjamin and Irene reconnect, we flashback to the time they meet and the time the rape/murder in question takes place. Irene is to be married, but Benjamin doesn’t care. The only person who knows that he pines for her is his partner, Pablo (Guillermo Francella), who is helping him on the case. The investigation leads Benjamin and Pablo to Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), the widower of the victim, and Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino), the prime suspect. But no matter how involved Benjamin becomes in the case, his mind never strays far from Irene.

That’s the film’s biggest problem: It has two very tonally different plot lines and it never devotes itself fully enough to one or the other. It’s a love story and a crime film. They could potentially work together, but it doesn’t quite work here. The love story doesn’t allow the details of the investigation to shine through, and the investigation prevents you from getting completely swept up in the romance.

That being said, the romance is still tender, albeit not as much as it could be. Benjamin is a quiet, gentle protagonist, but he’s very genuine in his feelings and his actions. And Irene is an excellent heroine. She’s smart, kind of feisty, and very caring. She loves Benjamin, and while it might be a more professional love than Benjamin wants, it’s sweet enough that we become invested in them, no matter how much the narrative wants to distract us with its tepid murder investigation.

Solid performances by Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil also make us care about the main characters. Even more impressive are Guillermo Francella as Pablo and Pablo Rago as Ricardo. Pablo, Benjamin’s partner, is a hard-drinking, but incredibly loyal friend. I’m not sure if he’s more of a help or a hinderance to Benjamin, but there’s no doubting how important they are to each other. This bond is almost as strong as the one between Benjamin and Irene, and when it’s threatened, I realized how much I was invested in their relationship as well.

Rago, on the other hand, is a perfect picture of grief. He sits at the train station day in and day out waiting for Gomez to appear. He shuts down. He lashes out. He does some incredibly strange things, even years later, as he tries to cope. But he’s very sympathetic, and Rago does a fine job.

So while the film definitely has its problems, I can’t say I disliked it. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a footchase through a crowded soccer game that’s easily the highlight of the film. And while I didn’t care much for the criminal investigation side of things, I definitely developed a connection with these characters. Was it the best foreign film of 2009? No, but it’s a solid film nonetheless.

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