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The Secret in Their Eyes (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

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It gets very compelling very early on, but loses its way toward the end, when an accumulation of lazily-written plot points start getting hard to ignore.

 

 

A lot of people were surprised when Argentina’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category, The Secret in Their Eyes, won the Oscar this year over such heavy-hitters as A Prophet and The White Ribbon. However, all of the people who had actually seen The Secret in Their Eyes weren’t so surprised—the main difference for the average viewer was that Eyes had not yet received the exposure in the U.S. that The White Ribbon and A Prophet had at that point, and those who had actually seen The Secret in Their Eyes were uniformly championing it. Now that Secret is coming into general release, it is really finding its audience, which is a luxury most Foreign Language Film Oscar-winners are not usually afforded.
While I appear to be in the vast minority, it seems to me that The Secret in Their Eyes is vastly overrated. That isn’t to say that it’s bad, but it seems silly that it would have won against the aforementioned two other nominees, which are much more sophisticated than this, which plays something like if Pedro Almodóvar had done the film adaptation of The Lovely Bones rather than Peter Jackson, but only at the caliber of his lesser films, like Bad Education or Broken Embraces. More specifically, The Secret in Their Eyes is a murder mystery that spans about thirty years, as criminal court employee Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darín, whom you may know from Nine Queens) and his alcoholic cohort Pablo (Guillermo Francella) try to at best solve the mystery of a rape and murder of the young wife of a nice young man who wants their help, or at least make someone in their corrupt system even care that she was raped and murdered. About the only person on their side in the courts is a lawyer named Irene (Soledad Villamil), who is the smart, beautiful, older woman of the sort that Almodóvar favors.
There are certainly things to recommend about The Secret in Their Eyes—it gets very compelling very early on, but loses its way toward the end, when an accumulation of lazily-written plot points start getting hard to ignore. The cast is uniformly excellent, especially Villamil, and the director, Juan José Campanella, seems to be an interesting character, given that he has a lot of random American TV shows on his filmography (30 Rock, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, House M.D.—you name it). But the one thing that everyone seems to be in agreement that is absolutely brilliant (myself included) is a single shot that comes maybe halfway through the movie, that starts off as a helicopter shot swooping above a packed soccer stadium, and proceeds to do things that are actually physically impossible for a cameraman to do—the shot itself had to have been doctored, but it appears seamless, and I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it. We’re talking Children of Men-level camera mastery here. And while that shot alone makes The Secret in Their Eyes see-worthy (hell, I’m tempted to go back and watch the whole film again just to see that one shot a second time), I’m sorry, but it does not make it Oscar-worthy. | Pete Timmermann
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