El Secreto de Sus Ojos

Juan José Campanella

9/10 (not ground-breaking)

This was the winner of the 2009 “Academy” award for Best Foreign Picture, which might be enough for some of you. Regular readers of my reviews will be aware of my opinion that the “Academy” doesn’t know jackshit, so you can never see something based on what they decide. In this case, however, they actually made some sense, because “El Secreto” is a damn good film.

It’s a who-dunnit political crime thriller romance. Argentinian star Ricardo Darín plays Benjamín Espósito, a federal justice agent somewhat like a district attorney. He is haunted by the crime scene of a young woman brutally raped and murdered in a Buenos Aires neighborhood, and he vows to her husband that he will find the killer. Even though the entire crime lays outside of his jurisdiction he pursues it maniacally with the help of his alcoholic assistant and friend. Later he develops a romance with his upper class new boss.

Despite the arresting visual presentation of the film and the interesting flashback storytelling technique, the movie seems pretty mundane, albeit solid, for almost the first hour. Then, all of the sudden you are treated to a visceral spectacle as director Campanella creates a chase scene in a crowded soccer stadium that involves a single 5-minute shot tracking in from a birds-eye view of the stadium and ending with a close-up of the suspect being tackled on the field and arrested. It’s about at this point that you realize the movie is something special.

What follows is anything but typical, as Espósito and his boss Irene extract a confession from the suspect in a shockingly tense office scene. Then you think it’s winding down and everyone can go home happy, until a year later they find out that the murderer has been released due to petty office politics. Not only has he been released, but he has been hired as a political hit-man amid the violence of 1970s Argentina and begins to threaten Espósito. The resolution of the movie is both shocking and satisfying, and the entire thing is extremely well-done.

This is not a mind-blowing film, but it is a very solid thriller, and it serves as a reminder that Hollywood does not have a monopoly on sensational cinema. It also serves as a sort of calling card for the budding Argentinian film industry, which trails only the U.S. and Mexico in our hemisphere in terms of quality. Other solid Argentinian films to check out would be “Nueve Reinas” and “XXY.”

So why should you see it? Well, for one because it’s good to broaden your cinematic horizons with foreign fare, and Ricardo Darín is a sort of Argentinian Al Pacino in terms of acting reputation, so he’s a great entry point. Another good reason is that it’s leagues better than anything Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage have done in a long time. Hell, it’s better than anything Pacino himself has done since 2000’s “Insomnia.”

28 March 2010

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