Small town murder mystery against the backdrop of Australian drought.
A well constucted thriller with solid performances, great cinematography and a permeating hostile atmosphere overlaying the modern case with a unsolved death in the town 25 years earlier.
The dry, dead isolation of inner coastal Australia is on full display, with dusty wide empty expanses and a penetrating, tinderbox feeling of heat and impending ruin. The town has known hardships, and those that live there are stretched thin.
For them, a second tragedy might be the tipping point that finally destroys the community, and Aaron (Eric Bana) returning to town only serves to open old wounds.
Not more to add that wouldn’t verge on spoilers, so if you know this is your genre fare you can’t go wrong with this one.
While at first blush the two might seem to be the same story, really only the broadest of strokes have been retained in the adaptation from Argentina to North America, and all the richness of character has been drained out for a by-the-numbers crime thriller with an overqualified cast.
EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS (2009) won awards and acclaim as a mystery wherein the investigation into the murder of a young woman twenty-five years in the past stirs up old relationships when the investigator returns to town to try and write a book about his experience on the case. We slowly learn what went wrong, why he was forced to leave, and the life he was forced to leave behind — framed around an unconsummated romance with his superior and the deep vein of corruption running through the Argentinian legal system.
It’s very much sincere and charismatic and takes time to show how the incompleteness of the case has worn on everyone involved, that they have fallen into incomplete lives even now, two decades on, and you sincerely hope for them to find solace or closure.
There’s also an incredible single take chase shot that flies into a soccer stadium, sweeps around the crowd and then pursues the invesigators through the chaos after their mark. That shot alone is a technical marvel worth the price of admission.
Being a mystery, I’ll stay as light on the details as possible, but it’s deserving of the praise and Ricardo Darin is a treasure.
THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2015) takes the skeleton of the case and a passing glance at the romace framing the narrative and reshuffles everything else so that nothing fits together in the same way nor approaches anything like the engagement of the original.
The cast is excellent — indeed, this is dream casting for the story and I don’t doubt they were able to pull Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Alfred Molina in simply by screening the original for them. But that’s about as far as my compliments will go.
First and foremost: almost all of the actual detective work happens off screen. The bonding of the investigative team originally came from working out how each of their personas lent something of value to the case and they grew closer through it. In the 2015 version we’re shown a few brief flashbacks of people “being friends” and that’s meant to suffice. It doesn’t.
The politics in this version is a strange shoehorning of post-9/11 anti-Muslim fear involving a stakeout at a mosque that ultimately lends nothing to the story at hand. It can’t possibly have been twenty-five years worth of time between the two parts of the story, and very little effort was actually made to make either time period distinguishable or distinct from one another.
And that impressive chase shot I mentioned? It becomes a single drone shot coming into a baseball match and then as soon as the chase starts proper it just cuts like a normal chase. No single take. Why even bother adapting something if you’re not going to pay attention to the things that made the original unique?
I would highly recommend watching the Argentinian version, and then come back here to find out a little more on how the American remake fucked it up.
An elegant, intricate knot. The sort of story that screenwriters all wish they were clever enough to pull off this effectively.
It’s just the right length, brilliantly self-contained and full of endearing characters and so much mystery that you’ll be going right back to the start to figure out where that thread you lost went.
Yes, it’s complex and can be labyrinthine and hard to follow at times, but the creators have done an incredibly impressive job of leaving breadcrumbs in everything from casting to production design. Seriously, the casting of actors as older/younger counterparts of themselves is frequently astounding.
And the plot. Ooooooooh the plot. Young boys start going missing around a small German town, thirty-three years to the day after a similar rash of disappearances happened and we see the effects of this ripple through a small community being affected for a second time in a generation. But what is actually going on is truly best left to be discovered yourself.
While the third season threatened to keel over with another burst of complexity, ultimately I felt it stuck the landing and was genuinely disappointed when we reached the end to find there was none left to be revealed, when the knot showed how thoughtfully it had been tied right from the start.
Haunting, moody and engaging. Truly, one of the great modern mystery/sci-fi shows. Highly recommended.