Monday, February 14, 2011

The Secret in Their Eyes. A-

It's tough to watch The Secret in Their Eyes without being reminded of the great mysteries of the seventies, a time when mood, setting, and character trumped plot. These days, mysteries thrive on action and convoluted narratives, thus defeating the ultimate purpose of the genre: to be mysterious! When I talk about mysteries from the seventies I'm talking about the Chinatowns and the Klutes that tell stories as a way to unleash hidden truths of the characters. The Secret in Their Eyes does the same thing with an ex-detective trying to write a book about a murder case from his past. A substantial amount of the film is spent in flashback sequences that give us the mystery, yet clearly have greater ambitions. There is a profound character study at the heart of Juan Jose Campanella's film, and in that study a love story so subtle and elegiac it's hard to tell just how deep it really is. By the end of the movie we find out that the movie is chiefly about mutual love, which completely changes the way one views the film. I look forward to seeing it again simply to marvel at the way Campanella keeps the romance so concealed before revealing its complete vitality. The ex-detective in the movie is played by Ricardo Darin, a deeply talented actor with a face born for the movies, particularly this genre. He brings a quiet obsession to the role, not intense like James Stewart in Vertigo, but still every bit as powerful. The movie also features a host of memorable supporting players and manages to bring depth to them in a time when side players are often just stereotypes. Take the character Pablo Sandoval, who appears to be in the movie for comic relief yet ends up giving one of the film's most moving performances. As much as the movie is about love, The Secret in Their Eyes still tells an excellent mystery. It's a mystery that seems to recognize its boundaries, and thus never enters into preposterous territory. And while its psychological dimensions make it thrilling, there are some spectacularly mounted action scenes as well, including an astounding sequence at a soccer game. At the game, cinematographer Felix Monti pulls off an astounding stunt by filming a chase in a single take while artfully navigating the confines the stadium. Since this is an Argentinean production, one cannot presume that the great mystery is alive and well. But with this movie, Hollywood should definitely be taking notes.

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