Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)


Regret can be debilitating even among the strongest men. It's worse when all the regrets of your life spawn from a single series of interconnected events twenty-five years ago. Retired legal counselor and federal agent, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) finds himself at a crossroads in his life. With little to do, and less in mind, he decides to write a novel about the events that surrounded the rape and murder of Lilana Coloto (Carla Quevedo).

What transpires is a tale of passion, unrequited love, and justice in a world of political upheaval. In love with his young boss, the now Judge Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), Benjamin is a man fascinated by passion. Too reserved to ever express his feelings, he idealizes Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), Lilana's widower who spends every day at the train station hoping to one day find her killer.

In essence, that's what separates Secret in Their Eyes from so many of our modern-day generic crime thrillers. It's not a film with a series of twists and turns, desperately trying to get you to guess and second-guess who the killer could possibly be. The killer is revealed very early on into the tale. Instead, the movie is about what happens afterward. How those events so affect these characters that it breaks them down to their very raw emotional beings. What happens when these characters are finally forced to address the very things they've been repressing for years.

Once those shells have been stripped away, we finally get to see these characters for who they truly are. Often sad and lonely people trying to get through life with as little regret as possible. Sure, they work well-paying jobs, maybe they have a marriage or a loved one, but none of these things complete them. The things they truly want in life have either been taken away or not come along when they were in a position to grab them. As such, much of Secret in Their Eyes is about missed opportunities. Lives currently filled with reflection over action.

That's one of the many aspects I absolutely love about this film. Many will tell you it's a thriller, tense and ominous, and it is, but Secret in Their Eyes is so much more. Writer-Director Juan Jose Campanella majestically wraps a tale of complex, emotional characters around a captivating thriller with enough twists and turns to constantly keep you wanting more. As much a mood film as it is an emotion, Secret in Their Eyes constantly draws the viewer in with a perfect balance of intensity and reality.

One would be hard pressed to pin-point a single genre for the wide-spread narrative. The movie flirts with a wide variety of topics, with each character embodying a different form. Through their eyes we encounter politics, justice, love, loss, and addiction. We see how failing to gain closure on some of the biggest events of life can leave gaping holes that must be closed. And through it all Campanella finds hope in even the most solemn of life's moments.

Unrelenting, Campanella navigates the tale with a keen understanding for direction. His timing is as impeccable as his characters are fallible. Sentimentality is the name of the game, and everyone plays. Every scene is an expository moment, making even the most meandering scenes captivating.

At times the film may waver under the weight of its melodrama, but the characters and Campanella carry it through. There's no need for action to keep your attention, only tension and well designed characters. Simple enough to make you love them, complex enough to request you get to know them. All in all, The Secret in Their Eyes is one of the best films I've seen in years, and a surefire classic.

Film Credits:
Directed By: Juan Jose Campanella
Written By: Juan Jose Campanella & Eduardo Sacheri
Novel By: Eduardo Sacheri 

12 better thoughts:

Jess said...

I've been catching up with lots of Foreign Oscar nominees and winners and they've been spectacular (Check out Departures). So this is high on my list. Glad to see someone else loved it.

Cheri Passell said...

just put it in my netflix queue!

Will said...

I watched this last August coz I never expected this one to win the Oscars. I found it really great.

Castor said...

Ahah I'm on the same boat as Jose. It's been on my Netflix list for ages but I'm perpetually in catch-up mode. Given that you are raving about it, it will definitely be bumped so I can see it within the next two weeks.

Univarn said...

@Jess I've been meaning to see The Departures, but a lot of people I read have called it dreadfully boring - torn with all the other films I want to see.

@Cheri Good to know!

@Will I thought so. I was quite taken by it, and I don't get taken by films very easily.

@Castor I'm in the same mode, so I understand (still digging for a shot at Blue Valentine or Rabbit Hole over next week and a half so I can be as finalized as possible).

Stevee Taylor said...

I watched it yesterday. I thought it was amazing! But was I the only one who saw some slight similarity to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

Will said...

Wow, I've been meaning to see this...sounds pretty good!

Also, Departures is fantastic. Some may say that it is boring, but since you like Japanese films, you're probably keyed into the pacing of it more than most, as they are generally more slower-paced than American stuff.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Oooh, just saw this last night! Great film, deeply disturbing, and still churning in my brain. I'll wait 'til my write-up to read your review, but I found this astoundingly complex and intriguing from first frame to last.

Chris David Richards said...

I'd never heard of this, so thanks for the recommendation.

Univarn said...

@Stevee I haven't seen Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so I can't account to the similarities. However, I think they'd be different enough not to warrant too many comparisons.

@Will Thanks for the comment and Departures clarification. Maybe I'll make a day of it and check it out alongside some other Japanese classics missing from my view.

@Yojimbo What I love about it is how complex it seems, but I think the movie is rather straight forward on reflection. Each character has one particular motif that defines them. It makes and breaks them, but it defines them never the less. Secret in Their Eyes is about them trying to unearth that one thing - shed the secrecy in favor of doing the things they truly wish to do.

@Chris No problem, and enjoy!

Shubhajit said...

Great that you liked this movie. In fact, as coincidence would have it, I too reviewed the film recently at my blog and rate it very highly. As you aptly mentioned in your excellent review, "regret" forms a vital part of the movie's theme.

The Mad Hatter said...

(I think this is the highest score I've seen you give in the 14-15 months I've been paying attention)

I've said this quite often, but if you enjoyed this film, you should seek out the episode of the Creative Screenwriting podcast where Campanella discussed the film's creative process - truly fascinating and ultimately what pushed me to find this film last spring (in a theatre no less!).

I love the raw emotion on display in this film; especially the profound mix of anger, sorrow, tenderness and regret.

Oh, and Pablo's monologue about passion is one for the ages.

Great review of a great film!

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