“A person can change everything about themselves but their passion.” That statement is made by a supporting character at a crucial point in the Oscar-winning The Secret in their Eyes, but watching the film, you gotta hope that it applies to director Juan Jose Campanella as well. One of Argentina’s top behind-the-camera talents, he has fashioned a satisfyingly complex movie—part suspenseful thriller, part police procedural, part bigger-than-life romance and even part comedy—that gets under your skin and stays there. Can’t wait to see what he does next.
The Secret grabs you from the start, thanks to lead actor Ricardo Darin, who plays Benjamin, a recently retired court investigator writing a novel based on an unsolved rape-murder case that has haunted him for 25 years. In flashbacks, he also plays Benjamin the young man in the prime of his life, bent on hunting down the killer for the sake of the victim’s husband, who loved his wife with the same intensity that Benjamin loves his smart, beautiful upper-class boss (Soledad Villamil). Whether he’s trying to keep his emotions in check around the woman that he’s secretly in love with (in flashbacks) or trying to analyze what went wrong in the case and in his own life (in the present), Darin’s fleshy face and piercing light eyes form a compelling mix of pent-up emotion and a spark of still-burning vitality.
Campanella’s mix of tones in the movie doesn’t sacrifice any one aspect of the movie for another: You are as captured by the haunting story behind the crime as you are by scenes that explore Benjamin and Irene’s unspoken decades-long love for one another; Guillermo Francella as Benjamin’s best friend and colleague, a lovable drunk who was seemingly born spouting witticisms, brings much needed catharsis to the film. Along the way, there are some bravado scenes, including a five-minute, one-take scene in which Benjamin and Pablo chase down a suspect at a packed soccer game, and another in which Benjamin and Irene question the suspect. But Campanella packs the most heartbreaking, shocking, and redemptive moments for the last 20 minutes of the movie. It would be unforgivable to give away any of those moments here. Suffice it to say that passion—whether deferred, explosive, quiet, disturbing or burnt out—is at the heart of the film and at the heart of its shocking, rewarding last moments.
The Secret in their Eyes opens in select US theatres April 16, be sure to check in tomorrow for our exclusive Q & A with Oscar winning director Juan Jose Campanella.