Tag Archives: Argentine film

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

secret in their eyes

Hollywood remakes seldom live up to the originals, especially if the original as an Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film. That’s unfortunately also the case for Secret in Their Eyes, a remake of the 2009 Argentine film El secreto de sus ojos (review here) that took home the gong in 2010, even though the Hollywood version features heavyweights such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, as well as Alfred Molina and familiar TV faces such as Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) and Michael Kelly (House of Cards).

I remember hearing about the remake years ago and was surprised that it took them this long to finally release it. Most of the elements of the original are there, but the setting is of course changed to the United States and the time period updated to the post-911 world. The story is essentially the same in that it revolves around a tragic incident that forever changes the lives of three people in different ways. Thirteen years later, the ghost of the past resurfaces, and the narrative switches back and forth between the two periods as we gradually piece together the shocking mystery.

Like the original, Secret in Their Eyes is a slow burn of a film with some intense moments, brutal violence and heavy drama. It is a tribute to the Argentine film that when I watched the remake I was able to recall the exact same scenes I saw more than five years ago. The execution by writer and director Billy Ray (best known for directing Shattered Glass and penning the scripts for The Hunger Games and Captain Phillips) is solid, though for some reason the film never managed to fully grip me like the original. Part of it is that it was sometimes difficult to tell which time period we were in (they all aged well), and another part is that the atmosphere wasn’t as well-crafted. Maybe if I hadn’t seen the original I would have thought differently, but now I’ll never know,

The performances from the two Oscar winners and one Oscar nominee are, needless to say, splendid. Ejiofor, who plays an obsessive FBI agent in the counter-terrorism unit, carries the film pretty much from start to finish with his usual intensity and emotion, while Nicole Kidman, a district attorney, fulfills her role with grace and underlying fierceness. That said, the chemistry between the two could have been stronger, making the relationship less involving than it otherwise should have been. Julia Roberts is the standout of the trio. It’s an extremely difficult role to portray, but she does it without underselling or overcooking her performance.

I’m somewhat surprised by the film’s low 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and score of 45 on Metacritic. It’s perhaps a little disappointing given how remarkable the original film was and the incredible cast, but in my mind it’s certainly a much better movie than the reviews suggest. My wife, who has not seen the original, didn’t think it was great but thought it was quite a compelling and gut-wrenching story, and I can’t disagree with her assessment. Flaws notwithstanding, this is a very solid film that probably should have been more, though certainly not a failure by any means.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

As far as I can recall, the last film I awarded 5-stars was the Japanese film Okuribito (aka Departures), which won the Best Foreign Film category at the 2009 Oscars.  So I was understandably excited when I attended the screening of the Argentine film El secreto de sus ojos (English title: The Secret in Their Eyes), the 2010 Oscars’ Best Foreign Film winner.

While The Secret in Their Eyes was ultimately not a 5-star film in my opinion, and despite not having seen any of the other nominees in the category, I do think it is a worthy Oscar winner.

The Secret in Their Eyes won Best Spanish Language Foreign Film at the Goya Awards in 2009, and it’s easy to see why.  The film, directed by Juan J Campanella, is fascinating, compelling and complex.  From the script to the direction to the performances, the entire production oozes class and style.

It tells the story of a recently retired federal justice agent, Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darin), who is writing a novel about a 25-year-old rape and murder case (back in 1974) that continues to haunt him.  The film moves back and forth between the past and the “present” (ie 1999) as Darin’s investigations lead him down a path that will change his life forever.

The core plot of The Secret in Their Eyes is very strong, but there are also plenty of intriguing subplots revolving around Espósito’s life — such as his alcoholic partner Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) and his boss Irene Menéndez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil), the woman he longs for but can’t have.  And of course, there is the escalating political violence in Buenos Aires brewing in the background the entire time.

The performances from the three leads are impeccable, but special mention is reserved for Pablo Rago, who plays the grieving husband Morales, and Javier Gudino, who gives a chilling performance as the prime suspect Gomez.  While neither dominates screen time, these two characters anchor the most dramatic scenes throughout the film.

Speaking of dramatic scenes, there is a masterful 5-minute sequence in a football stadium that is all filmed in one long take.

Having praised the film, there are some complaints.  The first, and my main gripe, is that the film could have been tighter.  The pace is steady, although there were times when I felt a conversation outstayed its welcome or a scene dragged on for too long.  There was also a slight tendency for repetition to bring out character traits (eg Sandoval) that did get a bit tedious eventually.  If these things were finessed a little to bring the running time down from a long 127 minutes to a more manageable 115-120, the film would have been even better.

Secondly, The Secret in Their Eyes stretches the believability factor far more than it should.  There are quite a few coincidences and unlikely occurrences that have to be tolerated in order for the film to work.  To be honest, it didn’t bother me too much but I can understand it if others thought it was too fanciful.

Thirdly, just a small complaint about the make-up to convey the 25-year age difference.  It wasn’t bad, but it could have been a lot better, especially for the leads (who mainly just changed hair styles and colour).

The Secret in Their Eyes doesn’t have a premise or story that will necessarily blow anyone away, but for the most part, it is a mesmerizing, satisfying experience.  It knows when to push the right buttons and how to create the right atmosphere, whether it is brutality, fear, tension, creepiness, excitement, loneliness, love, hate, or pain.  There is an abundance of powerful imagery and memorable dialogue to go along with its messages about our lives and memories, meaning it will likely be one of those films that will resonate long after you have walked out of the cinema.

4.5 stars out of 5!