The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de sus Ojos) (R) (127 min.) — This year's Academy Award winner for best foreign language feature is a gripping Argentine take on the cold case crime genre, with a lurid mystery covering 25 years. Yet director Juan José Campanella imbues his film with deliberately sketched characters, deduction and complicated romance to make it more than merely a subtitled CSI: Buenos Aires.
In 1974, judicial investigator Benjamin Esposito (hangdog hero Ricardo Darín) is assigned to investigate the rape and murder of a young wife, only to have the case yanked away by false arrests of two suspects.
Benjamin is convinced they're innocent, focusing on the victim's longtime friend (Javier Godino). He's right, but sympathetic supervisor Irene Menendez Hastings (Soledad Villamil) can't do anything about it. Assisted by an alcoholic co-worker (Guillermo Francella), Benjamin breaks several rules to find the truth, although it goes deeper than he expects.
The movie, like the mystery, is anything but an open and shut case. Like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Campanella's movie has a few jaw-dropping twists in store. Meanwhile, Benjamin's affection for Irene, a terrifically empowered female character, frames the movie as they meet again in 1999 to discuss a book he's writing on the case. It's one of several personal relationships in the film that feel honest at every turn.
The movie grabbed me and wouldn't let go during a bravura set piece at a soccer game when Campanella's camera glides into the stadium, finds Benjamin's face in the crowd and doesn't stop moving (with only a couple of edits) for six breathtaking minutes. That scene brings the boiling point of tensions simmering throughout The Secret in Their Eyes, a feature-length lesson to American filmmakers offering little except kiss-kiss and bang-bang.
The Secret in Their Eyes opens Friday at BayWalk 20 in St. Petersburg, and is scheduled to open May 21 at Tampa Theatre. Shown with English subtitles. A
Steve Persall, Times film critic