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The Secret in Their Eyes

Dir: Juan José Campanella

Rating: 2.0/5.0

Sony Pictures Classics

127 Minutes

I learned something new today: just because a film wins the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film doesn’t necessarily mean the movie is any good. I have been foolish not to realize this earlier. After two decades of awarding pure shit (Crash, Chicago) the Best Picture Oscar, why should foreign films fall under a different set of criteria? But after looking over the winners of the past decade, only one egregious example stands out as a “bad” movie (2002’s Nowhere in Africa). Unfortunately, Oscar began this new decade by picking The Secret in Their Eyes.

Argentinean Juan José Campanella’s crime feature overcame the heavily favored The White Ribbon to snag this year’s award. But unfortunately, the film, a crime soaper dressed up in dramatic clothing, is little more than a lurid telenovela directed as if high art. The formulaic script involves a murder case in the 1970s that continues to haunt the film’s surviving characters 25 years later. With all the pre-millennial tension chasing about 1999, you would think these people would have more to worry about than a cold case.

Principal character Benjamín Esposito (Ricardo Darín) has returned to Buenos Aires from Andean Argentina to write his memoir. Actually, he comes back to try to get into the pants of his old flame, Irene (Soledad Villamil), the lawyer he worked under back when he was a federal agent and hunting down the man who raped and murdered a young woman. As the story flips between present and past, all the usual clichés- the wrong men apprehended for the crime, the boozy partner, the right killer who is caught and then wrongly freed- fall into place.

Although The Secret in Their Eyes is over two hours long, it moves at a jaunty clip that kept me interested. However, it is one of those films that doesn’t allow you to realize how bad it is until a final twist sends the entire project collapsing onto itself. Sure, Darín is an interesting actor and the garish crime is enough for us to get behind him, but when a sequence that plays like a muddled version of The Usual Suspects arrives, The Secret in Their Eyes steps out of its sheep’s clothing to reveal itself as nothing more than a trite attempt to be shocking and daring. Unfortunately, the film is neither.

Just like Sweden’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the makers of this film seem to confuse high art and police procedural. Thought it doesn’t revel in the dark side of human behavior as much as its Swedish cousin, The Secret in Their Eyes perhaps is even more insidious in its attempt to romanticize a past where a young girl has to brutally die so our protagonist can get his man and his lady. I would like to thank the members of the Academy for making such a poor choice.

by David Harris
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