What one expects from a Best Foreign Language Academy Award winner is exactly what one gets from Juan Jose Campanella's Argentinean pseudo noir thriller The Secret in Their Eyes. A capable film, full of strong (sometimes brilliant) performances, better-than-average production values and a script that is often poignant (to a point) but often self-righteous and pandering as well. A film that plays at deep and meaningful (and most likely with full intentions to do so) but a film that never quite gets there. In essence, you get the safe bet. A well-crafted film, but hardly the best of the best. Rarely a terrible movie, but just as rarely a great one. Such is the case with The Secret in Their Eyes, a film that somewhat surprisingly (though this Oscar Ballot champ correctly predicted such) beat out far superior films such as The White Ribbon and The Prophet for the little naked golden man with the big sword.
The Secret in Their Eyes, the story of a retired court investigator trying to solve a twenty-five year old rape and murder case while also connecting with the lost love of his youth, is indeed compelling but never delves as deeply as it should. The film has potential, and it's near police procedural pace (a thing made more evident with the fact that Campanella has directed a bushel and a peck of Law & Order: SVU's) works to make it competently compelling and the acting is top notch indeed, but the passion needed to make such a film work seems to be missing. We may see that passion in these performances (so much so that there is not a single well kept secret in any of these eyes!) but the film takes on some strange - even ridiculous - sidesteps that come dangerously close to unraveling just about anything good and promising about the film.
Playing out almost as if it were a wouldbe Zodiac, though sans a director with the chops (and/or balls) of David Fincher, The Secret in Their Eyes won the Oscar because it pretended to dare to go where no film had gone before, but did not go so far as to alienate those voting for the award. In essence again, it was the safe bet, and that is the main problem with the film - it is the safe bet. With a sinister potential that could have rivaled another recent foreign hit, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Campanella instead treads lightly and therefore, safely around the subject matter. A well made film on many levels, though more than a bit hokey at times, with a triumvirate of transcendent performances that manage to hold it all together, but never the film it could have and should have been. But then, if it were, it probably would have never won the Oscar. Faint compensation indeed. [05/31/10]