A crime is committed. A world-weary detective unravels the mystery as we learn about his troubled past and inner demons. The answer to the case interconnects with those same issues somehow, providing a fresh perspective on all involved with an unexpected twist. Until the last decade or so, this conventional premise, usually soaked in noir or some other fresh aesthetic coat, was the building block of one of Hollywood's truest, most assured genres. But when procedurals like CSI, Law and Order and NYPD Blue took over multiple stations and were syndicated into dominance, the need to watch a crime get solved at the theater subsided.Â
It's interesting, then, to see a kind of renaissance for the crime drama in cinema these days, especially in light of the original Law and Order's recent cancellation. This year has already brought one spectacular detective story 'Â Werner Herzog's The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call ' New Orleans ' and now comes this surprise Best Foreign Film winner of the year, Spain's The Secret in Their Eyes, a relatively stock-and-trade procedural boasting exceptional performances, a jaw-dropping ending and not much else.Â
Court investigator BenjamÃn Esposito (Ricardo DarÃn) wants to write a novel about a case he fell into a quarter-century ago, involving a rape and a murder. His writing process has opened a can of worms in his memory bank: the young, beautiful judge whom he adored, his alcoholic friend and the brave widower whose love for his late wife exceeded anything Esposito had seen. As he sketches out his novel, Esposito, now divorced and graying, revisits some of these ghosts from his past as we catch up with him in flashback.Â
At this point, it's fair to say that even casual TV watchers have seen it all when it comes to crime-solving dramas, and Eyes writer-director Juan JosÃ© Campanella (adapting Eduardo Sacheri's novel of the same name) has been responsible for some of that overkill as a frequent Law and Order director. Like that show's plot structure, Eyes suffers a bit from a sense of the inevitable, but Campanella's film separates itself by way of its performers. The sparks that fly as a result of DarÃn's investigator and Soledad Villamil as the judge are genuine and sustain them for the decades-long scope of the film. Both actors are capable of looking at each other in silence and telling us all we need to know: 'The eyes speak,â?� DarÃn tells Villamil. 'They bullshit, too.â?�Â
Is The Secret in Their Eyes better than The White Ribbon or A Prophet, both of which it beat out for the Oscar? No, it isn't. But it is a sturdily constructed, attention-grabbing thriller that feels like a return to Old Hollywood without bending over backwards to look like Old Hollywood, and the warmth it bestows upon the two leads is something more elusive that the crime thrillers of yesterday never seemed to grasp as well as the Stabler and Bensons or Booth and Brennans of today's procedurals.Â
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