Yet another entry into the sub-genre of films about writers trying to decide what to write, The Secret in Their Eyes is a fittingly forgettable title for a long-winded Argentine thriller.
Ricardo Darín plays a retired legal investigator, resembling an Argentine Nicolas Cage. He decides to write a novel about an old case that still haunts him 25 years on; that of a woman raped and murdered. The events of the case unfold in flashback, as our protagonist investigates the politically tangled mystery. Soledad Villamil plays his boss and Guillermo Francella his partner, resembling an Argentine John Oliver.
The winner of 2009’s foreign language Oscar, The Secret in Their Eyes is part crime thriller, part romantic drama, all trash. Well-made trash admittedly, but trash nonetheless. The brutality of the crime sets up a gritty procedural, but the actions of the lead characters are unbelievable to the point of comedy; it’s unclear if certain moments are meant to be funny, but the brutal murder would suggest not.
In one scene, our protagonists do a Rebekah Brooks and break into the victim’s house without a warrant. They find a photo of a man staring at the woman and assume he must be the murderer. “I don’t know how,” says our hero, “but I know.” What law school did you go to? The Uri Geller Academy?
This does however lead to a brilliant chase sequence in a football stadium, involving an impressively long take that begins high above the arena and takes us all the way through the stands and down into the toilets. But this is immediately followed by an awful interrogation scene, featuring some of the worst policing since South Park‘s Officer Barbrady.
They bully a confession out of the suspect and never question its validity, even though they’d condemned their rival for beating a false confession from different characters earlier in the film. What’s the difference between their actions and that of their rival? How can they be so sure that this confession is true, when it’s a direct response to humiliation just as the false confession came from violence?
When the characters aren’t acting on baseless hunches, they’re involved in a sickly love story seeped in dreary music and endless cliché. The framing device of the protagonist’s novel enables the characters to discuss the hackneyed nature of the events; the film seems to think that this stops it from being hackneyed. It doesn’t.
The film does take the time to explore its characters, but probably too much time; it feels long and uninvolving, lacking the taut atmosphere of last year’s The Keeper of Lost Causes. The Academy lap up this kind of toothlessly political slush through a Coca-Cola branded straw.
Being a successful foreign film, The Secret in Their Eyes is getting an inevitable English language rehash for people too stupid to read subtitles. But maybe, just maybe, this could be the remake that actually surpasses its original. Especially now that Gwyneth Paltrow has left the project. As it stands, the remake features Chiwetel Ejifor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Dean Norris. But the perfect cast is staring us in the face.