There are secrets in a lot of people’s eyes, but the one thing that isn’t a secret in the eyes of the Academy members that select the Oscar winners is that they love maudlin shit. I went to see The Secret in Their Eyes with average expectations, unsure of how much I’ve trusted Argentina since Eva Peron kicked the bucket, but lately, it is a country that seems to be beating its chest, what with their World Cup dominance and winning an Academy Award for best foreign film. What I got in exchange for my neutral outlook was something vaguely resembling a telenovela. And if I wanted that, I could just watch Univision or Ugly Betty.
The story begins, like so many stories, in the present. Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) is a recently retired investigator for the court in Buenos Aires. With all of his newly acquired free time, he finds himself dwelling on a case that began in 1974, and never truly resolved itself. Plagued by what is referred to as the Morales case, Esposito decides to sit down and write a book about it. He finds himself unable to stick with an introduction until he talks with his old boss and the love of his life, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil). Writer-director Juan José Campanella weaves the present with the past rather effortlessly, and somehow makes the 1970s look like a fairly dynomite time to live in (in spite of the existence of catch phrases like dynomite and the whole stagflation thing taking the world by storm).
Esposito essentially falls in love with Irene the moment he sees her, and his affection for her is only partially deterred when a homicide/rape case crops up involving a woman named Liliana Colotto (Carla Quevedo). When Esposito informs her husband, Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), of what befell his wife, it is as though they have an immediate personal connection, Esposito all too aware of being consumed by love for a woman who has been taken from him. Unfortunately, in what is the norm for South American justice, the police are more concerned with pinning the crime on anyone rather than actually solving it. This leads Esposito to enlist the help of his alcoholic and, accordingly, ribald friend, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella).
After some highly precise detective work that involves poring through most of Morales’ photo albums, Esposito notices one man in particular that keeps giving Liliana a “rape face” (you know, staring, wide eyes, tongue sticking out, that type of thing. Walk down Crenshaw in booty shorts if you can’t picture it). The man in question, Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino) is actually apprehended within a year, but then released early instead of carrying out his life sentence due to the handiwork of a nemesis of Esposito’s seeking retaliation. The plot sort of drags on from there, detailing the power and energizing effects of avengement and unfulfilled desire. I’ll leave it at this though: The ending has the same eeriness of discovering Norman Bates’ dead mother rotting in the basement at the conclusion of Psycho.