I put off watching this film for a long time for various reasons, in large part because I was afraid to see yet another Academy Best Foreign Language Film mistake (how does A Prophet possibly lose?). The Secret In Their Eyes doesn’t change my mind in that arena, but it does stand up as a solid romantic-thriller.
The film reminds me of the recent classy but overrated French thriller Tell No One. Both are told non-chronologically by a narrator who may or may not be reliable. In this case the flashbacks take the form of a novel being written by Benjamin (Ricardo Darin). The malleability of memory is one of the major themes here, and the writing process itself becomes metaphor for our ability or inability to live in the present.
I liked The Secret for a number of reasons: solid camera-work including a much talked about (and deservedly so) long take towards the middle where the camera moves from an aerial shot of a soccer stadium, cranes into the crowd, follows multiple characters, and ultimately ends at field-level, very strong performances from the leads, and above-average writing (though I do take some issue with the script).
I disliked it for a number of reasons: over-reliance on the flashback structure to lead into the “reveal” ending in the last 10 minutes, and overly expository dialogue (“I’ll go _________.” Just do it already.).
It’s the rare film that deals with obsession (of a murder case and a lost love, in this case) in unique and interesting terms. The great 1988 film The Vanishing (not the awful remake) is one of the relatively recent films to take this theme to new heights, but it does so by remaining focused on its sole objective. The Secret In Their Eyes gets sidetracked by commentaries on bureaucracy and its refusal to give us any real alone time with the main character. The few moments we have to reflect are too little, and instead of having the obsessive-cop theme taken to its extremes (another great one comes to mind – Bong’s Memories of Murder) the psyche aspect feels watered down.
All of this being said, The Secret does succeed in playing out its lost-and-found-love plot. Perhaps it belongs more in the genre of romantic-drama than romantic-thriller. I was rarely thrilled. But I was romanced.