The Secret in Their Eyes

Time Out New York Project: Issue #759, April 15–21, 2010


Dir. Juan José Campanella. 2009. R. 127mins. In Spanish, with subtitles. Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino.

Winner of the 2010 Best Foreign Film Oscar, this decade-hopping, tone-shifting mystery-thriller-romance from Argentina is about as deep as a kiddie pool, which isn’t to say it’s an unpleasant frolic. Separated by time and circumstance, retired criminal-court employee Benjamín Esposito (Darín) and his former superior-cum-unrequited love, Irene (Villamil), revisit an unresolved case from years before. It’s a lurid little tale of a beautiful woman raped and murdered, a doting husband (Rago) who wanted revenge and a killer (Godino) who went free thanks to the country’s tumultuous political climate. 

Director Juan José Campanella — who recently put a butchtastic Kathy Griffin through her paces on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit — does yeoman’s work, save for a faux single-take in a packed sports stadium that’s clearly devised to impress. The camera swoops in from above, settles among the crowd, and switches points of view with “look, Ma, no hands!” effortlessness as Esposito chases down a suspect. But it’s so enamored with its own brilliance that the people get lost in the swirl. 

Not that there’s much to these characters to begin with, since they bow to the story mechanics rather than drive them. Everyone is more or less defined by their hair…or lack of it. (There are fake baldpates in this film that would make Telly Savalas sue for defamation.) Darín and Villamil make for an attractive couple, no matter what age-aiding prosthetics the makeup department throws at them. And the resolution of the murder plot — part O. Henry, part E.C. Comics — is an ironic lip-smacker that concludes the mostly rote proceedings on a giddy high note.—Keith Uhlich