Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: The Secret in Their Eyes


If you keep going over the past, you're going to end up with a thousand pasts and no future.

At its surface, "The Secret In Their Eyes," which won Best Foreign Language Film (Argentina) at the 2010 Academy Awards, appears to be a police drama, but as the story evolves it becomes a mesmerizing film that spans two decades, with emotional intertwining themes and rich, fully developed characters.

The film begins in 1999, 25 years after the brutal rape and homicide of 23-year-old newlywed Liliana Coloto (Carla Quevedo) went unsolved, due mainly to a corrupt legal system. The criminal investigator, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), now retired, is still haunted by the case and the events surrounding it and, to cope, is attempting to write a novel about it.

He reunites with Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), his former supervisor on the case and with whom he was (is?) in love, to present to her his idea and notes for the novel. She is affected by the case as well, and neither has talked about it until now.

From here, the movie follows a two-themed track as it flashes back to the mid-70's and the characters involved attempting to solve the case, and flashes forward as they attempt to live in its aftermath.

For one, it's a detective story that primarily involves Hastings, Esposito and his alcoholic assistant, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), an affliction rendered even more tragic by revelations of his keen mind, along with his sense of humor and genuine affection for Esposito. For such a heavy drama, the two share some very good comedic and lighthearted moments.

The detective track also introduces us to Ricardo Morales, Liliana's grieving husband, who is played thoughtfully by Pablo Rago. He is devastated by Liliana's death, conveyed through some heartwrenching scenes, and goes to obsessive lengths to find the killer and avenge his wife.

When we are introduced to the primary suspect, Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino), it is done in a breathtaking scene that takes place during a soccer game and is filmed in a fashion I've never seen before. Forget the fact that they find the guy in a jam-packed stadium, it is so uniquely shot and suspenseful that it is quite memorable.

Soledad Villamil and Ricardo Darin (Sony Pictures Classics)
Intertwined with the police story, the film is also a story of unspoken love between Irene and Benjamin, and how the inability to acknowledge their feelings for each other dooms them to lives they may not have been meant to live. As a result, they seem forever caught in the past, and their only future is to live with the notion of how things should have been.

What I really like about this film is how the two different tracks reflect the same themes. As the case is reopened, also reawakened are the unspoken feelings between Benjamin and Irene; as the case -- chillingly I might add -- addresses the issue of "How do you live a life full of nothing," Irene is forced to answer this question based on her life choices ... to mention just a couple.

The two tracks are also full of subtle parallels that I love: A typewriter with a missing "A" key, an "irresistible smile" that is initially unforthcoming, doors that are strategically left open or decidedly shut, photographs with eerie similarities ... each of these, and more, neatly apply to and are revisited in both the detective story and the love story at precise points.

The movie is graphic, but not gratuitously so, and at times, some plotlines are a stretch. But it's a movie, and thanks to some well-crafted scenes, including one of perceived self-sacrifice, and the actors' intricate performances set against a gorgeous soundtrack, the ride up to the film's climax is both riveting and dreamlike.

And what a thrill the climax is, as the story is peeled back layer by layer in a series of enthralling revelations, including a bone-chilling twist that is both jolting and, on a deeper level, a resounding sentiment of the perils in making the past the present and, subsequently, wiping out any chance at a future.

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