Prior to seeing Argentinian thriller The Secret in Their Eyes, all I knew about it was that it had triumphed over Michael Haneke’s spectacularly icy The White Ribbon and Jacques Audiard’s brilliant prison drama A Prophet to collect the Oscar for Best Picture in a Foreign Language at the 2010 awards.
Although the Oscars are far from a reliable barometer of quality, as any sentient individual who has sat through Crash (which, to my mind, still contains some of the most bollock-tighteningly awful individual scenes in cinema history) will attest, it seemed obvious that The Secret… was going to have to exhibit some serious quality to deserve its prize.
And did it? Well, not quite. Starring Nine Queens’ Ricardo Darin, who resembles no-one so much as a rugged, charismatic and alive Jeremy Beadle, as criminal court investigator Esposito, The Secret in Their Eyes ultimately revealed itself as a smart, engaging and satisfying thriller with nods to 70s Hollywood (The Conversation, The Day of The Jackal) and more recent success stories like Memento (with which it shares a revenge-is-pointless thematic drive) and fellow Oscar-winner The Lives of Others (memories, the passing of time, and typewriter-as- plot point!) although was limited by its occasional recourse to cinematic clichè and a slightly limp third act enlivened, admittedly, by an unexpected conclusion.
The Secret in Their Eyes, however, will surely be remembered for one sequence in particular – an astonishingly cinematic tour-de-force which towers head and shoulders over the rest of the film in terms of verve and punch, and channels De Palma, Scorsese and Welles in its manic ambition and stunning execution.
Beginning with a high aerial shot over a luminous football stadium, the likes of which we have recently been treated to in the coverage of the World Cup in South Africa, the camera sweeps into the stadium to join a football team at the point of a sweeping counter-attack. The attack ends with a shot glancing off the crossbar, but the camera continues to travel at speed into the crowd, eventually locating Esposito and his drunken partner Sandoval on the lookout for their target – a rape-murder suspect. When a goal is scored, the stadium erupts and the target is spotted, catalysing a riveting, bracingly violent chase sequence that takes us around the interior of the stadium and finally ends on the pitch in one utterly confounding take.
The scene, filmed at Argentine team Huracan’s stadium, apparently took a scarcely believable three months of pre-production, three days of shooting and nine months of post production to complete. It was worth it. So visceral was the sequence, that when it concluded, I was perched on the edge of my seat and literally short of breath. This sequence was pure cinema, and up there with other great one-take treasures – think Children of Men and Touch of Evil.
Also strongly reminiscent in terms of Guy Ritchie’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’-chanelling Nike commercial, it is worth the price of admission alone. Perhaps the Oscar panel were football fans.