3.5 stars, (R)
The Argentinean murder mystery The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de sus ojos) won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. I mention this to entice those of you who normally skip movies with subtitles. This one is worth a look. It has problems, which I'll carp about later, but the story is gripping, the acting is impressive and the camera work is especially good.
Juan Jose Campanella, the director and co-screenwriter, has shot around 19 episodes of Law and Order and it shows in his focus on the relationships between members of Argentina's state prosecutors' office.
The story hops back and forth in time, but what it boils down to is this: Lawyer Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) has a case he can't get out of his mind. Writing a novel about it quickly turns into an unofficial reopening of the old case. Since his sidekick and best friend Pablo (Guillermo Francella) spends too much time in the bottle, Esposito enlists the help of Judge Irene Menendez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a smart, stately woman that Esposito secretly loves. The case in question involves the rape, beating and murder of a young woman many years ago. Two men were convicted, but Esposito knows the real killer is still running free.
Solid story, interesting characters, good set-up. A little too reserved, perhaps, but engrossing nonetheless. Felix Monti's cinematography is striking, particularly in a scene set at a football stadium. The whooshing camera work grabs you, but serves the action rather than overwhelming it.
Which brings me to the fussy portion of the review. My first complaint revolves around an interrogation scene with a suspect (Javier Godino) who is a bit on the short side with a non-imposing frame. After Esposito fails to make any headway during his interrogation, Hastings decides to give it a go. She sidles around the room, oozing superiority, and starts taking digs at the guy's height (he's not that short) and manhood, eventually implying that he may not be well-endowed enough to satisfy a woman. The guy freaks out, exposing himself and providing valuable information while screaming at her.
What bullshit. The man is in his twenties at least, and he's lived a pretty rough life. Yet he breaks down because somebody teases him? As any man can attest, getting hassled by other guys about your height or weight or limp or whatever is par for the course. And anytime a group of men are together in an informal setting, it is just a matter of time before someone makes a lame joke about one of the other guys having a tiny dick. The notion that a stranger could break this guy down with such mundane trash talk is silly, yet it is presented as a display of Hastings' deft interrogation techniques. Give me a break.
Another offending scene is set at a train station. Someone gets on the train, which slowly starts pulling away. The person staying behind starts running after the train. When the person catches up, the two press their palms against the opposite sides of the window that separates them. Then the person on the train runs to the caboose and stares out the open door while the other, still running, shouts out their feelings. Is there any scene in the history of movies more cheesy than that one? Not only has it been done to death over the years, it's so dead that parodies of train station scenes are no longer used in comedies because that's considered too trite as well. So why are we subjected to it in a movie made by smart people?
Mind you, The Secret in Their Eyes is overall a captivating, worthwhile piece of entertainment. I just needed to vent my frustration with those two scenes. I feel better now. Thank you for your time.