In Nathan Rabin vs. The IMDb Top 250, Nathan Rabin uses a random number generator to select one of the 250 best films of all time as chosen by the popular cinematic database, and then determines whether the individual ranking of any specific film seems high, low, or just right. (Note: To maintain a consistent list ranking, we are using the list as it appeared on September 15, 2014.)
Title: The Secret In Their Eyes
Director: Juan José Campanella
Year of Release: 2009
IMDb Top 250 Ranking: 141
Now that we are on the 28th entry in this 250-part series, it’s probably a good time to acknowledge that the IMDb Top 250 is a really weird list. In its current form, for example, Kingsman: The Secret Service, which I vaguely recall coming out only last week, shares space with Barry Lyndon, and Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 ranks just above the slightly dissimilar The Battle Of Algiers.
The IMDb Top 250 encompasses a dazzlingly, some might even say idiotically, broad swath of films, from international masterpieces recognized the world over to Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. Today’s entry, 2009’s The Secret In Their Eyes, is a special case. It marks the second time I saw and then wrote about a film I had never even heard of before, let alone seen, let alone talked with all my friends about because it’s water-cooler fodder the world over. This says more about me and my taste in movies than it does in the film itself, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film as well as the Goya for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film.
The movie opens, moodily, with images of a young woman in the sunlight. She is impossibly beautiful, as if blessed with a radiant inner light. She doesn’t just smile; she shimmers. We see her as the stuff of memories that are cherished all the more because they are impossible to reach except through the melancholy tunnel of memory. The next time we see this woman, she is naked and bruised, having been raped and killed in Argentina in 1974. The woman’s name is Liliana Coloto, and her death becomes an obsession for both her widower Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago) and lawman Benjamin Espósito (Ricardo Darin). Espósito is fascinated and impressed by the widower’s bottomless pain and his hunger to get justice for the love of his life. But from an official point of view, finding the killer is of low priority.
The authorities lazily round up a pair of immigrants to pin the rape and murder on, but Espósito is unconvinced they’re anything but marginal figures with the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The powers that be are less concerned with justice than with maintaining power. Even when the authorities do get the man behind the rape and murder, they allow him to go free because he has value to them as an extremely capable informant. To them it doesn’t matter that he is a rapist and a murderer who will probably go on to kill more people. They have a pragmatic investment in keeping him on their side, telling them secrets and helping them remain in power.
The rape and murder that opens The Secret In Their Eyes is only the first of many crimes committed over the course of the film, which asks, “If the state commits an unconscionable crime, does the institutional nature of the atrocity make it a matter of state policy?” The film switches timelines between 1974, when the murder was committed and the investigation began, and a quarter-century later, as an older and wiser but still haunted Espósito attempts to write a novel based on the crime and the investigation. Espósito finds he must immerse himself in the trauma of the past in order to find any kind of closure.
The Secret In Their Eyes is what is sometimes patronizingly called “handsomely mounted.” It looks gorgeous and is so impeccably acted and portentous that it’s easy to miss that, at heart, it’s really a melodramatic potboiler filled with twists and turns and red herrings. For its first two thirds, The Secret In Their Eyes is a mood piece as much as a police procedural. And it’s an unusual mystery in that the question is ultimately less “Whodunit?” than “Why were they allowed to get away with it, and what does it say about a society that would allow such a thing to happen?”
Like Incendies, the other film on this list I had never even encountered before writing about it, I would not put The Secret In Their Eyes on a list of the thousand greatest films of all time, let alone the top 250. But I did find it powerful in its methodical pacing and compelling in its dizzying film-ending series of twists. I can’t say I’ll be able to remember the plot a year from now (when you see as many movies as I do, they can blur together or disappear from your memory altogether), but I was caught up in its world of sadness and regret, longing and nostalgia for that which we hold dear but can never recapture.
Too high or too low: Too high
Nathan’s Revised IMDb Top 250 Rating (based on films covered for this series so far)
1. The Best Years Of Our Lives
2. Some Like It Hot
3. Blade Runner
4. North By Northwest
5. In The Mood For Love
8. Django Unchained
9. Bicycle Thieves
10. Before Sunrise
11. The Silence Of The Lambs
12. Roman Holiday
13. All About Eve
14. Batman Begins
16. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
17. Stand By Me
18. The Lives Of Others
19. The Secret In Their Eyes
20. Requiem For A Dream
21. Hotel Rwanda
23. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
24. The Truman Show
25. Blood Diamond
27. Slumdog Millionaire
28. Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels