Like a gripping novel you can’t put down, argentine director Juan José Campanella’s decade-straddling drama – an unexpected winner of the 2010 foreign-language film Oscar ahead of such critical darlings as A Prophet and The White Ribbon – is a real page-turner.
Mostly unfolding in flashback, it is at once a murder mystery, a touching romance, a political parable and a legal thriller. Most of all, it’s a cracking yarn well told.
Driven to pen a book about a 25-year-old rape and homicide case his overworked criminal court office was never able to resolve, former investigator Benjamín Esposito (Ricardo Darín) finds the past is very much present in a land still bearing the physical and psychological scars of the military junta that seized power in the ’70s.
Yet Benjamin has wounds of his own to nurse, involving one colleague (Guillermo Francella) with a heart as huge as his appetite for alcohol, and another (Soledad Villamil) for whom he has deep but undeclared feelings.
Campanella, who also co-wrote this, adeptly intertwines the personal and the political by allowing his characters to discover that guilt is a relative concept in a country where the corrupt and the violent hold all the cards.
Shame, then, that the sprawling narrative is lumbered with a climactic revelation that, despite being oddly poetic, finally stretches credibility to snapping point. Still, this is a big, engrossing, superbly acted entertainment.
And while Campanella is best known for his TV work (Law & Order, House, 30 Rock), he earns his cinematic spurs in one swoop: a zig-zagging extended pursuit through a packed soccer stadium captured in a stunning single take.
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