‘Secrets’: Love story stays hot after plot gets crazy

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, May 6, 2010 12:10pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The surprise winner of this year’s Oscar for best foreign language film, “The Secret in Their Eyes,” snatched the award from two (deservedly) well-regarded contenders, “The White Ribbon” and “A Prophet.”

An easier and more sentimental film in every way, “The Secret in Their Eyes” falls short of the movies it bested. But its catchy mystery and engaging cast make it a painless enough genre picture.

The plot has vague parallels to “The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo,” as a man remembers, and tries to resolve, a murder case from many years before. The man is Benjamin (Ricardo Darin), a former legal investigator haunted by the brutal slaying of a young woman 25 years earlier, during the politically turbulent 1970s in Argentina.

He seeks out his former boss Irene, a judge (Soledad Villamil), for whom he has carried a torch for the same amount of time. As for the case, it was a nasty business that still has some loose threads.

The film is perhaps too timid in linking the outrages of the case to the outrages of the 1970s “Dirty War” in Argentina, but we assume that some shadowy governmental force is behind a few key moments in the investigation.

The chemistry behind Darin and Villamil is smoldering and convincing, although for most of the movie you’ll want them to get on with it and get a room, already. As Benjamin’s hard-drinking partner, Guillermo Francella steals a few scenes — but then it’s that kind of role.

The director, Juan Jose Campanella, has a strange career going: He scored a previous Oscar nomination with his 2001 film “Son of the Bride,” but he’s also spent years in U.S. television, including work on a couple of the “Law &Order” series.

As though to distance himself from that small-screen work, Campanella pulls off a truly astonishing technical stunt halfway through the movie, involving a very long take that begins in the air above a crowded soccer game and then swoops down for a detailed chase within the interior of the stadium.

I assume some digital trickery was executed to make it all fit together, but it’s still a wild shot.

In fact, that shot is more believable than some of the plot turns in the late going. “The Secret” gets more far-fetched as it goes along, leading to a handful of revelations that suddenly make the central murder case seem less compelling that the simple suppressed love story between Benjamin and Irene.

That’s the opposite of what’s usually true in this kind of film, where the love story almost always seems perfunctory. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for “The Secret,” but the question has not bothered anybody in its native country: The film is on its way to becoming the biggest-grossing picture ever made in Argentina.

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