Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Discover "The Secret in Their Eyes"

Editor's note: If you're reading this and aren't from Macon, GA, please know that this was written as a new weekly column I write for the Telegraph newspaper, and absorb its local elements as such.

It's no secret that the Macon Film Guild goes out of its way to show unique and entertaining movies, and they've certainly found one this week with the Argentinian thriller "The Secret in Their Eyes."

This surprise Best Foreign Film winner at this year's 2010 Academy Awards is worthy of the honor, as director Juan Jose Campanella turns what could have easily been a standard police procedural a la "Law & Order" into both a grand, unrequited romance and a film noir that fits in with the classics of the genre.

At the outset, we meet Benjamin Esposito, a retired legal investigator played by veteran Argentinian star Ricardo Darin who is now working on a true crime novel about the case that has plagued his memory for a long time, a particularly gruesome rape and murder. Returning to the courthouse that was his old base of operations, he's reunited with his former boss, an attorney played by Soledad Villamil, and you can see instantly both how and why he would have carried a torch for her love for so many years.

Using Esposito's novel as a structural device, Campanella, who also adapted the book by Eduardo Sacheri for the screenplay, lets the first half of the movie unfold as a series of memories infused along the way with both the complex politics of Argentina and the smoldering but unrequited passion of its leads. This first hour or so, as clever as it is, isn't without its faults however, as the killer is tracked down through a series of investigative contrivances that will often make you wince.

What makes this nonetheless riveting viewing is the performances at its core.

Darin, who also starred in two other sublime Argentinian thrillers for the late director Fabien Bielinsky, "The Aura" and "Nine Queens," brings such an urgency and fire to the role of Benjamin that you never tire of watching his complex tale unspool, no matter how many twists it take (and there are many.) And Villamil plays the object of his affection with both charm and a disarming wit that encourages him as often as it puts his wilder impulses in check. Perhaps best of all, however, is comedian Guillermo Francella, who brings soul to a stock role, Esposito's comic sidekick, that could have been instantly forgettable. His story arc packs an emotional punch that keeps the movie moving through its rougher patches.

And all the excesses of the investigation segment of Campanella's flick (the confession is particularly galling) can be forgiven when you find out what he's setting you up for, a "reveal" that unfolds slowly but in its suspense and games of memory rivals that of another recent Macon Film Guild offering, "Tell No One." As Esposito learns what became of the murder victim's lover, who like him was never able to let the case go, and also finally learns to follow his own heart, the movie takes a series of turns that will surprise as often as they delight viewers.

Far too complex and ambitious to be perfect, "The Secret in Their Eyes" is nonetheless a mesmerizing tale very well told, and a great way to beat the agonizing heat for a couple hours this Sunday at the Douglass Theatre.

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