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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes

Crime, mystery and love in Oscar-winning film

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The Secret in Their Eyes opens with a memory in blurry gray hues of a couple parting from each other at a train station long ago. The Oscar-winning Best Foreign Language Film easily moves between then and now, the reflections of a struggling novelist and the reality he is trying to depict. Director-writer Juan Jose Campanella has similarly crossed borders, directing episodes of “Law & Order: SVU” and helming this splendidly filmed crime movie from Argentina, with its spacious two-hour running time that allows for greater psychological depth than is usually possible in American broadcast television.

The novelist, Esposito (Ricardo Darin), is a retired investigator from the Buenos Aires prosecutor’s office. Writing is his way of working through a cold case that still sticks in his throat decades later—the 1974 murder-rape of a beautiful young schoolteacher. Even with the help of his Sancho Panza-like assistant, Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), and a beautiful assistant prosecutor, Hastings (Soledad Villamil), Esposito’s investigation continually ran against dead ends in a labyrinth of mystery. Someone in the police was in a hurry to close the file, offering up a pair of drifters as the killers. Esposito saw through their confessions, which had obviously been obtained through a harsh beating. Finally he was given a warning: The worst that will happen to Hastings, who comes from a well-connected and powerful family, will be lack of advancement; Esposito, an aspiring young man from the lower middle class and without a protector, could find himself dead. Argentina’s impending military coup casts a lengthening shadow as the story unwinds.

Esposito and Hastings, who could have been but never became lovers, suffuse The Secret in Their Eyes with bittersweet nostalgia over lost opportunities and roads untraveled. The acting is apt, subtle and deeply felt. A warm and even slightly flirtatious friendship between the old colleagues has survived the inescapable decay of time.

The cinematic showpiece is the lone chase scene pitting Esposito and Sandoval in a heart-pounding foot race with a suspect, pursuing him around a soccer stadium like a desperate rat in a concrete maze. Much of the film is set at night or indoors where the lamps are low and the lighting indirect. Along with its story of corruption and power, The Secret’s dark color palette and taut dialogue, leavened with moments of humor and erotic tension, suggest an unusually well-conceived update of film noir.