Lisa Schwarzbaum/Entertainment Weekly
Having just won the Academy Award as the year's best foreign-language film, The Secret in Their Eyeshas a decent shot at wearing down resistance to subtitled films. Don't be put off. This spellbinder from Argentina will sneak up and floor you. It's that good.
Ricardo Darin is brilliant as Benjamin, a criminal-court investigator who is tormented by the unsolved rape and murder of a young bride in 1974, and by the military junta that devastated his country around the same time. We watch as Benjamin and Sandoval (the superb Guillermo Francella), his alcoholic partner, work with the victim's husband, Ricardo (Pablo Rago), to identify the killer. Photos, especially those revealing the eyes of the killer, play a major role in the discovery. In a thunderously exciting chase scene through a Buenos Aires stadium during a heated soccer match, Benjamin and Sandoval hunt their prey, only to find him given shelter by the corrupt government of the new Argentina.
Now, 25 years later, the retired Benjamin begins writing a novel to resolve his need for closure and his feelings for Judge Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil, fiercely good). Out of a fabric of suspense that would have fascinated Alfred Hitchcock, director Juan José Campanella, best known in the U.S. for his work on Law & Order SVU,House and 30 Rock, weaves a moral fable that manages to pack a powerhouse punch and still be as intimate as a whisper. The highest praise is due Darin and Villamil for letting the unspoken passion between these two characters play out in their eyes. You won't be able to take your own eyes off them, or to get this supremely intelligent and deeply touching thriller out of your head.
Lisa Schwarzbaum/Entertainment WeeklyAs if to guarantee that the title doesn't go to waste, the complicated characters in the sinuous Argentinean thriller The Secret in Their Eyes frequently stare at one another in tight close-ups that encourage the audience to study each actor's expressive orbs for clues: What really happened in a Buenos Aires rape and murder case still unresolved after 25 years? What's going on in the head and heart of a recently retired criminal investigator-turned-novelist (Ricardo Darín) who has been hopelessly in love with his upper-class court colleague (Soledad Villamil) for a quarter of a century? Slipping the action between the past and the present, the movie — handsome and conventional enough to win this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film — also snakes its slow-moving way through genres. As written and directed by Juan José Campanella, The Secret in Their Eyes melds the elements of a whodunit, a mature romance, a damning political commentary, and even a serious buddy movie, as the former investigator works side-by-side with his devoted, alcoholic partner (famed Argentinean comic Guillermo Francella).
The performances are tender, the script elegant, the cinematography (especially during a virtuoso chase scene in a soccer stadium) artful. Listen closely, though, and you can almost hear the reassuring chung-CHUNG that marks the influence of the many episodes of Law & Order on the director's résumé. Organized in a vague approximation of a three-episode L&O marathon, scenes regularly fade to black, then pick up elsewhere. All that's missing are title cards with Argentinean addresses to map the progress as secrets are revealed before our eyes. B