Like many or most of the best films, The Secret In Their Eyes by director Juan José Campanella combines elements from more than one genre. In this case it's all of an exciting thriller with a final kick like a mule, a love story, a parable about loyalty to your friends and duty to those you serve, an examination of the nature of revenge and a reflection on the bitter nature of memory that's pregnant with regret for things imperfectly done and undone.
As if these big themes are not enough, the whole is dipped in the sour broth of the Dirty War of the 1970s when successive military regimes in effect declared war on the citizens of Argentina; people were kidnapped from streets when they went out to buy a paper or snatched from their beds in the middle of the night.
The film is primarily set in flashback in 1974 Buenos Aires as Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín), a criminal legal investigator, is assigned to the rape and murder of a young teacher. 25 years later, Esposito is still haunted by the case and is trying to write a novel about it. He does his best for the distraught widower Morales (the hangdog but intense Pablo Rago) but is unable to surmount the political stumbling-blocks that prevent the judiciary from conducting its business ethically.
Campanella succeeds beautifully in marrying this crime and its political background with the personal intensity of Esposito's relationship both with his boss Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil) and also his close friend and boozy colleague Sandoval (Guillermo Francella). We see how every aspect of life is corrupted and brutalised in a country where justice is suborned. Morales (a very common Spanish surname, and by which name alone Esposito always addresses him) stands for Everyman in his bewilderment as events shake and render him anaesthetised to normal human emotions.
The script crackles with laddish office humour and ironic asides that provide relief from the deadly events of the film but never dilute their effect. The story is filmed with visual and metaphorical brio, notably in a marvellous night sequence on location at a huge football ground. Dizzying, swirling helicopter shots of the bright stadium set outside the shrouded city give way to the floodlit confusion of the terraces crammed with fans as the investigators search frantically for their man as he hurtles successively from light to dark and back again.
Once or twice sentimentality threatens to intrude, perhaps most especially in the very last scene of all, but this is nit-picking judged against all the positives, not least a fine, subtle performance from Ricardo Darin, playing a good man flawed by weaknesses that sap his will to persist, almost to the point of bringing him down.
This is an adult picture, treating its audience seriously and raising uncomfortable questions, up there with films like Cache, The Battle of Algiers and even in a quite different way with Hitchcock's Notorious. A must for anyone with a serious interest in cinema.