Movies: The Secret in their Eyes * * * *
(16, limited release)
Although a little overlong and spoilt somewhat by a clunky, made-for-TV ending, Juan José Campanella's Oscar-winning film The Secret in Their Eyes is a fresh, arresting, hugely entertaining and at times quite brilliant cop thriller that puts most of Hollywood's recent efforts in the genre to shame. It's ambitious too and, during its 127 minutes, it attempts and succeeds to blend a love story, a buddy comedy and an arch critique of Argentina's politically dubious past into its overriding murder mystery.
Charismatic Argentine actor Ricardo Darin plays Benjamin Esposito, a retired federal justice agent who has decided to try to write a novel based on an old murder case that still haunts him. But try as he might he can't get started, and pretty soon we find out why.
Esposito was a harried Buenos Aires federal agent in 1974 when he was called to investigate the brutal rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman called Liliana Colloto. And although Esposito is as cynical and hardened as you'd expect, he was deeply affected by the sight of the wildly staring and badly beaten corpse.
As Esposito and his drunken but clever colleague Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) begin to investigate, they close in on a suspect called Gomez. But while they're looking for him, they find out that Esposito's corrupt rival Romano has 'solved' the case in typical Argentine style by arresting two nobodies and beating a confession out of them.
With the case in tatters and Liliana's devastated husband threatening to take matters into his own hands, Esposito looks to his new boss Irene Menendez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil) for support, but also finds himself falling hopelessly in love with her.
Flitting skillfully and imaginatively back and forth in time, The Secret in Their Eyes balances the tragedies of the past with the possibilities of the present. There are some genuinely hilarious moments between Darin and Francella, and considerable chemistry between Darin and the softly beautiful Villamil.
In one of the most stunning pieces of film-making you'll see this or any other year, Campanella sweeps into a football stadium, follows the home team's attack on goal then shoots on into the crowd where Esposito and Sandoval are hunting down their man. It's the finest moment in a film full of verve and invention that only lets itself down in a creaky final third.