Movie Project #40: The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]

The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]
Director: Juan José Campanella
Writers: Eduardo Sacheri (writer), Juan José Campanella (writer), Eduardo Sacheri (novel “La pregunta de sus ojos”)
Country: Argentina
Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Guillermo Francella
Running Time: 129 minutes

“A guy can change anything. His face, his home, his family, his girlfriend, his religion, his God. But there’s one thing he can’t change. He can’t change his passion…”

In The Secret in Their Eyes, this quote, provided by a relatively minor character, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), works on so many levels. Sandoval’s passion is booze, and he can’t break his love of whiskey, much to the chagrin of his impatient wife. Yet Sandoval is a functional drunk, and he provides a worthy friend and companion to Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), the film’s main protagonist.

Esposito is a retired legal counselor who is struggling to write his first novel, based on a horrific rape/murder case he worked on some 25 years ago. Seeking guidance from his former boss, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil), he begins examining the past events surrounding the case while also seeking possible new information during the present day.

The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]

The film goes back and forth between these two time periods — 1974 and 1999 — demonstrating the failures of the Argentinean’s justice system at the time. In 1974, when Esposito gets a lead on the possible murderer, his superiors are all too dismissive of his work. For them, they would rather take the easy way out and pin the crime on two completely innocent manual laborers; that is their rather unfortunate form of justice.

Yet Esposito refuses to give up until the right man is caught and behind bars. This legal case is his passion, and he is able to instill the help of both Hastings and Sandoval, even though both of them would rather let the past stay in the past. In one particularly impressive scene, Esposito and Sandoval head to a raucous soccer match in hopes of finding their lead suspect, a devoted fan of Racing Club. The entire film is full of slick camerawork, but it is here where Juan José Campanella’s vision truly shines. An extended take shows the action high above the stadium, where the camera then goes in above the pitch and into the crowd where the two investigators are entrapped among thousands of screaming and singing fans. It’s a remarkable scene, and it only intensifies when the main suspect is spotted, starting off a frenetic foot race throughout the stadium.

The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]

Even with so much of Esposito’s attention focused on this case, it is clear he has another passion: his long-time colleague, Irene Hastings. For whatever reason — partly due to his lack of self confidence — he struggles to make his move on his very attractive co-worker, despite her not-so-subtle hints otherwise. Their buried romance adds another layer to the case, even as they struggle to remember the past and their own fallacies.

Finally, there is the devastated widow of the murder victim, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago). It’s clear that his passion is his wife, and after her tragic death, he does everything in his power to find her murderer, even sitting for entire days at the train station, waiting for him to show his face. Esposito forms a sort-of friendship with Morales, vowing to help him solve this case.

With so many plot lines in play, it would be easy for the film to become a bit of a mess. That’s not the case at all here — the transitions between past and present day are smooth, and the mashup of thriller, crime drama and romance feels effortless. This is a film that fires on all cylinders, delivering a gut-wrenching story with an unexpected ending, one that no one can soon forget.


20 thoughts on “Movie Project #40: The Secret in Their Eyes [2009]

  1. keith7198 says:

    The stadium shot was phenomenal and it was the real highlight for me. Unfortunately I began to feel the movies length. I quite like the film as a whole but it did begin to feel long.

  2. ruth says:

    Oh I read a review of this on someone’s blog not too long ago, it looks positively riveting! Glad to hear it’s got high praise from you Eric, I definitely should give this a watch!

  3. Alex Withrow says:

    Great review here. When this won the Oscar, I had yet to see it. But my only thought was, how the hell did this movie beat The White Ribbon AND A Prophet? Then I saw it. Then I understood.

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