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Secret in Their Eyes, The (Blu-ray Review)

20 Sep, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 9/21/10
Sony Pictures
Box Office $6.4 million
$28.95 DVD, $38.96 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for a rape scene, violent images, some graphic nudity and language.
Stars Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Guillermo Francella.

Thanks in part to the actor’s frequently employed smile tinged with melancholy, I took to Argentina’s Ricardo Darin as a movie lead after seeing him in 2000’s superb con man entertainment Nine Queens — which, as has come to be the norm, got indifferently remade in Hollywood as 2004’s Criminal. (Scintillating title, too). I hope the makeover fate doesn’t eventually await this mystery-and-more, which turned out to be somewhat of a surprise choice for the most recent foreign-language Oscar winner. But don’t bet even three queens against it.

Force me into a corner and demand a second guess about the academy’s pick, and I would probably admit to preferring the rigidly formal beauties of Germany’s The White Ribbon — without being inclined to go to the mat over it. As it turned out once the film went into general U.S. release after the Oscars, Eyes is more of an audience picture than Ribbon by being several movies in one — beginning as a whodunit where we pretty well know who did it by the two-thirds mark. But it’s also about romance that gets frustrated over a period of decades; unspoken affection between members of different social classes (a discouraging big deal to the Darin character); office politics and rivalries; political interference that prevents justice from being accomplished; and questions about what constitutes just punishment: execution or perhaps something more imaginative? It’s grown-up material that wasn’t designed for theaters that have video games in the lobby.

The story is told in flashback from the 1999 vantage point of a veteran federal justice agent named Benjamin (Darin), who’s now writing a novel inspired by a nagging case that began 25 years earlier. At that point, he was in Buenos Aires working for a new department chief named Irene (Soledad Villamil): cool, capable, quietly attractive and from an upper class family where dad has connections. We can see from the subtle info that director/co-writer Juan Jose Campanella doles out that the two have good vibrations, but work is hectic and Benjamin always dives into his duties. He has always been troubled by the unsatisfactory resolution of the case that inspired the novel, which involved the especially brutal rape/murder of a bank employee’s wife who eventually (after a lot of pain) elected to get on with his life.

Because the movie is a whodunit up to a point — with another big twist coming late in the film — it’s not easy to go many places in a plot description without letting spoilers out of the bag. But to flesh out matters, you should know that Benjamin eventually had to leave the city; that the case is painstakingly solved with the aid of Benjamin’s alcoholic office partner; that the case’s major break is made possible by a whopper coincidence at a soccer game – which, in turn, leads to perhaps the most beautifully staged scene in the film; and that the conviction’s bungling almost certainly had to do with Argentina’s toxic right-wing politics at the time.

Campanella, who delivers a commentary and appears in a couple featurettes, has a lot of experience in American television: “House,” “Law & Order,” even an episode of “30 Rock.” This is another way of saying that those adverse to subtitles should still take the leap to enjoy a movie that’s fully accessible — one, in fact, that might have made a great project for Hitchcock were he still with us and in the mood to mix romance and Latin American political intrigue the way he did in 1969’s Topaz. Make no mistake, though: this is a much better movie.

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