Sunday, 5 September 2010

REVIEW: The Secret In Their Eyes

I think that's the most quietly badass picture I've ever had on this website. If you don't know the context anyway.

It's not very often I get to use a scene involving Katie Holmes as a point of reference, but its happening. There's a scene in Wonder Boys where Holmes confronts Michael Douglas about what is wrong with his latest novel, where she says ' You always told me writers make choices, but it just seems like you haven't made any.' That is to say instead of picking the one thing that works, you do everything for the fear that it doesn't. It's a shame The Secret In Their Eyes did this in its final third, because up to that point, it was an elegant a film you were ever likely to see, complete with terrific performances, stellar visual style and enough subtlety to give Sight and Sound the ability to love again.

The film became an unlikely villain at last year's Oscars, where it beat both The White Ribbon, the latest from nihilist indie darling Michael Haneke, and A Prophet, a film that still stands as my favorite film of 2010, and judging by its reviews, quite a few other people's as well. These two were both trailblazers in a way, but The Secret In Their Eyes stands as the dignified and lets face it, elderly alternative. All those old guys with ballots must have loved this film's comparative grace with its rivals shocking brutality. But I've no doubt this is the weakest film of the three, not because it differs in tone, but because its ambitions are slighter and its successes are fewer. The film begins very strongly, with a vague whodunit plot masquerading as an excuse to explore character, moral dilemmas and the philosophy of the legal system. All things it does outstandingly. Its a visual treat, with a chase sequence at a football match standing out is pretty fucking awesome. Soledad Villamil impresses as a high-powered female DA, a role she plays with not just toughness but a welcome approachability and humor, and as it comes to the end, an impressive depth. Its a performance that will stand as one of the strongest of the year for me. Also impressive are Guillermo Francella and Pablo Rago, both lending weight to their high-concept characters, the former the drunk lawyer associate and the later a grieving lover. Ricardo Darin gives a strong lead performance by any measurement, but there's an element of protagonist by numbers to the character and that limits what can be done. He's generally very good though.

But in the final third, the movie's sense of meticulousness, the assured hand and the sense of purpose is somewhat undermined by the movie getting a bad case of the multiple endings, each counter-acting what the other has to say, almost as if the writer was floundering around for an ending, and instead chose three. Anyone of which would have been very strong on its own terms, but stuck together, not so much. As if the glorious sense of artistic control and style that pervades the first two thirds of the film was offset by an unwelcome sense of self-doubt, and a movie so previously confident becomes so neurotic by its end. The old adage goes if you start badly and end well all is forgiven, but if you start well and end badly then well, the opposite of that I suppose. And that's my feeling toward a fantastically directed, stylish, beautifully acted film that didn't quite make the tough choice when it needed to. And that cost it two grades. World is a bitch.

Rating: 7/10

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