Film Review: El Secreto de Sus Ojos

The title translates to The Secret in Their Eyes, or so we’re told, because it’s actually a non-specific pronoun in Spanish. It translates just as well to ‘his eyes,’ ‘her eyes,’ or even ‘your eyes,’ if you like, and it’s a clever title, because the secret is passion itself, and the theme of the film is the secret passions of various people. One character at one point tells another that while you can change a lot of things about yourself, you’ll never be able to change your passion. It’s a good line, easily the best in the film, and it rings true.

Unfortunately, that’s more or less as far as my enjoyment of this film goes.

That this overrated Oscar-winner (Best Foreign Language Film, 2010) becomes a meditation on the different passions of a handful of people connected by the rape and murder of a young woman makes it a rather muddled affair. While thematically consistent, the secret love two characters have for each other seems a little beside the point in a film that’s really little more than a handsome police procedural. I found myself impatient with the pieces of the movie that didn’t seem to be very well connected to the main thrust of the plot, and I was impatient a lot. The movie felt long to me, and it’s because of all the tangential scenes used to beef up the movie’s self-important mission.

I also found myself wondering just how many mysteries end with reveals that incorporate copious redundant flashbacks to all the clues you may have missed if you don’t really like paying attention to what you’re watching. El Secreto de Sus Ojos ends with just such a sequence of repeated lines, and worse–some of the lines are repeated multiple times! I said multiple times! More than once! As in, multiple times!

Ay de mi. I do like to pay attention to what I watch, and so I found these scenes unnecessary and insulting.

If a story is properly constructed, I don’t think the audience will need such repetitive flashes. Work your exposition properly, writers, and stop it with the lazy recaps. I’m adding this to my rules for mystery films.

None of which is to mention that I saw the twist (if you can even call it that and respect yourself in the morning) coming a mile away. There is one malevolent detail that I loved about it that I didn’t see coming. I can’t spoil it for those that see this movie, but you’ll be able to guess it when you see it, I think. It’s quite mean, and it made the horror writer in me giggle.

There’s also a charged police interrogation scene in the middle of the film that plays like a dressed-up version of a scene you could see any day of the week on the dozens of primetime cop shows–apart from its graphic finale that would only make it suitable for HBO or Showtime. The writer/director of El Secreto is not someone I was familiar with, so, I confess, I looked him up on IMDb. I was shocked and a little horrified to find he has done extensive work on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and House: M.D. These are all shows I hate for their schlocky disingenuous nature (I am a devoted, passionate fan of The Wire, if that tells you anything at all), and while I feel like El Secreto isn’t that bad, it is similar in a lot of ways–it is just a touch classier and a smidge more thoughtful.

Chalk this one up to yet another overrated film from last year.


El Secreto de Sus Ojos, written and directed by Juan Jose Campanella. Based on the novel by Eduardo Sacheri. In Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 129 minutes. Rated R (for a rape scene, violent images, some graphic nudity and language).

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