The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) Review

A crime thriller from Argentina, winner of the 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film, now on release in the UK.

Buenos Aires, 2000. Benjamin Espósito (Ricardo Darín), a successful writer, is struggling to write a new novel. He decides instead to write about an unsolved case from twenty-five years previously, when he was a legal investigator in the criminal courts, concerning the rape and murder of a young woman…

The Secret in Their Eyes, an Argentine-Spanish coproduction, was the surprise winner of this year’s Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, beating out The White Ribbon and A Prophet. While it’s not on the level of those two films, this is however an intriguing crime thriller, which kept me guessing until the end. Much of the film unfolds in flashback, with Benjamin, his partner Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), and his boss, Cornell-trained lawyer Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), for whom Benjamin has an unrequited love, and their investigations, counterpointed by Benjamin’s reopening of the case a quarter-century later. I’ll add in passing that the actors who play their characters in both timelines are very convincingly aged by the make-up department.

The mid-Seventies setting is significant, though it inevitably will mean more in Argentina (where the film was a huge success) than elsewhere. The film has a sharp eye for the corruption rampant during the Perón era: two builders, one of them a Bolivian immigrant, are framed for the crime, though even at the time Benjamin knew they were innocent.

Director Juan José Campanella keeps the film moving, using the Scope ratio to provide some off-centre compositions. He really cuts loose in a virtuoso sequence that begins high above a football stadium while a match is going on, descends into the stand while Benjamin and Sandoval try to apprehend a suspect, chasing him down several flights of stairs, in and out of the gents’ toilets and finally onto the pitch, seemingly all in one shot. If you’re collecting setpiece sequence shots like this, worthy of Brian De Palma, then this film is worth seeing for this alone. (Squeamish viewers should note that we do see some of the rape – though it’s less graphic or prolonged than the equivalent scene in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – and we do see the naked and bruised corpse afterwards, both major reasons for the film’s 18 certificate.)

The Secret in Their Eyes is a well-acted, handsome-looking picture, shot in hi-def (4K resolution) on the Red One camera. While it probably shouldn’t have won the Oscar against that competition, in a way that win highlights a good film that might otherwise have been overlooked.


Updated: Aug 24, 2010

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