Movie Review: THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES

When the end credits started rolling after a screening of Argentina’s El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes, in limited U.S. release), I muttered to myself, “Perfection.” Oscars may be occasionally given to undeserving recipients, but this year in the best foreign film category, I think the Academy got it right. (I did, too; I predicted its win!)

The movie centers around Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín), a prosecution investigator haunted by a case from 1974 in which a beautiful young woman was raped and murdered. Now retired and attempting to write a book about it, Esposito reconnects with his former boss, Irene (the resplendent Soledad Villamil), to get feedback on his manuscript and discuss past events. It becomes clear very quickly, due to close-up shots of the actors’ expressive eyes, that their feelings for each other are just as unresolved as the case. The story smoothly transitions back and forth in time to show the investigation, how the victim’s husband deals with his grief, even briefly covering the political turmoil during Argentina’s Dirty War.

The description may make the film sound like heavy drama, but it’s also a love story that’s at once palpable and restrained. I imagined director/co-writer Juan José Campanella removing pages of dialogue from the script and telling Darín and Villamil’s to just say everything with their eyes. I also laughed out loud quite a few times, thanks to Guillermo Francella, who plays Esposito’s drunk friend and colleague with a droll delivery of zingers (pay special attention whenever he answers the phone). The combination of different genres isn’t surprising when you consider Campanella’s past work (the movie was adapted from a novel by Eduardo Sacheri, who also co-wrote the script). Not only has he mastered the police procedural with multiple episodes of Law & Order: SVU, he’s also directed episodes of 30 Rock and Strangers with Candy .

Campanella did Q & A after the screening I attended, which was sponsored by Creative Screenwriting magazine. He was witty and humble, despite being a newly minted Oscar winner. His publicist kept sending notes to the moderator to wrap up but Campanella repeatedly said, “It’s okay, I’m okay,” and stayed way past his allotted time.

Some things I learned from the session:

  • His NYU thesis film got him a William Morris agent but he couldn’t get a job for 10 years after that.
  • After his first feature bombed at the box office, he returned to Argentina “to be with Mommy” and find his voice.
  • He initially wanted to completely cut Pablo, the role Francella played, from the movie (the audience gasped at this since Pablo is so vital to the film).
  • In the novel, Irene is only a colleague in Esposito’s office and not involved in the case at all. In the film, she’s not only part of the investigation, she helps him expose the killer.
  • The final twist is different.

Nerd verdict: Captivating Eyes

Photos by Maria Antolini, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Reader#9
    April 18, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I heard so much about this, but have yet to see it. Also heard Hollywood was planning a remake before it opened in wide release. Smart, evocative films are sorely lacking out there. Glad to see you liked it. I can trust you.

  • Reply
    le0pard13
    April 18, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Now I really want to see this. Sounds like a great one, PCN. Thanks for this.

  • Reply
    EIREGO
    April 18, 2010 at 11:26 am

    THANK YOU!!!

    I got lucky enough to tag along with a friend for an early screening. It was like I was taken to another time, place and country. It was really magical. I had never seen/heard of any these actors before and I couldn’t believe how mesmerized as I was by this film. Hasn’t been a film in recent memory I could say that about.

    Glad you thought so as well.

  • Reply
    ScriptPimp
    April 18, 2010 at 11:36 am

    When it won the Oscar, I was like, “What!?”, but I have been hearing a lot of good things about it. More word of mouth than the usual venues.

    Thanks for putting out a review. I know you are pretty discerning and I am more apt to check out something you like as opposed to so many of the popular publications out there. Other than yours, I can’t recall the last time I agreed with a movie or book review.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Reply
    Christine
    April 18, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Excellent! I confirmed that it’s coming to Nashville in June. Thanks, PCN!

    • Reply
      Christine
      July 18, 2010 at 10:09 am

      Brian took me to see this for my birthday last month! We highly recommend this to all! [And we totally get the audience’s gasp that he considered cutting Pablo!]

      How powerful was that scene before he boards the train! And that twist!! Just as you said, Perfection! Can’t thank you enough for bringing it to my attention, PCN!

      • Reply
        Pop Culture Nerd
        July 18, 2010 at 12:43 pm

        Oh, belated happy birthday, Christine!

        I’m so glad you got to see this. I’m still talking about it; just recommended it to someone two days ago.

        Campanella wanted to cut Pablo because he said that character was just a fool in the book. He and Sacheri had to punch him up and give him a more pivotal function in the movie. And though the book also has a twist ending, it was different in that…**SPOILER**

        **SPOILER**

        **SPOILER**

        when Esposito finds the two men, they’re both dead.

  • Reply
    Paulette
    April 18, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    OOOOOH! Your review makes me want to rush out to see it! It is on my list of “actually go to a theater to view”, but I think the next in that category will be Robin Hood–can’t wait!

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    April 18, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Excellent, PCN! I hope I get to see this. IMDb shows it’s due for release in New Zealand in May, but nothing about Australia. Perhaps it will at least come out here on DVD!

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