It’s only July, but already 2010 may prove to be the Year of the Mystery. So far we’ve enjoyed Martin Scorsese’s explosive Shutter Island, Roman Polanski’s subversive The Ghost Writer, and the eerily elegant Mother, from Korea. Now, from Argentina, comes Oscar winner, The Secret in Their Eyes, perhaps the best of the lot. Secrets is a mind-twisting murder mystery, an aching love story, a labyrinth of corruption, obsession and revenge and most telling, it’s a metaphor for the power of prisons, including the ones we build around our hearts.
The film reveals its themes both in broad strokes, such as the constant soul-stifling behavior required to survive the repressive Peron regime, and the tiny details on which mysteries hinge—a typewriter with a broken letter “A,” a photograph on a book shelf, the way a woman repeatedly removes her eyeglasses as if she is banishing the passage of time. Above all are the secrets in people’s eyes—the truth of their longing or madness, and maybe, a flicker of forgiveness.
The present is 1999 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Retired crime investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), returns to his old workplace. He is greeted warmly by his former supervisor, now a judge, Irene Menendez Hastings (Soledad Villami), who can still make Benjamin’s heart skip. He tells her he is writing a novel about the case that continues to haunt him—the brutal murder of a young newlywed in 1974. Thus begin the three stories of Secret, the present, the past, and the scenes Benjamin imagines. Thanks to masterful filmmaker Juan Jose Campanella, the different time lines and their thrilling subplots weave themselves together seamlessly.
The husband of the murdered woman, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) loved his wife so much that he becomes obsessed with finding the man who killed her. He wants the murderer to suffer a fate crueler than death, a long, meaningless life in prison. Benjamin sees the man’s determination as the sign of an awesome love, what he feels for Irene but can’t bring himself to reveal.
With the help of his co-worker, Pablo (Guillermo Francella), who has occasional genius insights when he’s sober, Benjamin identifies the killer—by the look in the eyes of a childhood friend he sees in photographs from the dead woman’s album. But after months of searching no one can find the suspect, Isodoro Gomez (Javier Godino). “A guy can change anything,” Pablo insists in a moment of lucidity. “His face, his home, his family, his girlfriend, his religion, his God. But there’s one thing he can’t change. He can’t change his passion…”
This truth, of course, applies to every character in the movie. On this premise, the crime investigators use the murderer’s passion for soccer to track him down. In an astonishing chase in a soccer stadium, Gomez is captured. Playing a repulsive game of good cop/bad cop, Irene and Benjamin manage to pull a confession out of Gomez. Victory, a life sentence for Gomez, should be their reward.
Instead, the young punk is let go because his fondness for violence is a skill-set the purveyors of corruption can use. The widower is devastated. Benjamin tries to assuage him, but he can see that nothing he says will ever stop Morales’ fixation. Having riled the powers that be, Benjamin faces the tough reality that to stay alive, he must go into exile to the countryside, far from the polished corridors in the Hall of Justice in Buenos Aires.
As the viewers of The Secret in Their Eyes will see, the story is far from over. Many secrets remain and many eyes are looking for answers. Twenty-five years is a long time to wait for a murder mystery to be solved, but sometimes the wheels of justice grind slowly and it is that slowness that makes the end so horrifying.