(a film review by Timothy J. Verret)
EVERYBODY KNOWS is an excellent thriller. What’s truly thrilling about the film is not only the suspense of a kidnapping case but also, and more importantly, what becomes truly suspenseful when long-buried family secrets get “kidnapped,” too. The film centers on a large Spanish family all gathered together for a wedding. The wedding at the beginning of the film made me think of the beginning of THE DEER HUNTER, where a “happy” wedding segued way into the horrors of the Vietnam War. In EVERYBODY KNOWS, the same exact thing happens as far as “happy” to horror. During the wedding in this film, Irene, the teenage daughter of Laura (Penelope Cruz), goes missing and it’s a kidnapping and a financial ransom is requested or the daughter dies. The level of stress apparent snowballs into family secrets coming to the forefront and coming out as large and substantial as the requested ransom itself. A man in Laura’s past, Paco (Javier Bardem), who is not her husband, becomes overly eager to supply the ransom. This act makes the entire family question why Paco is more interested in finding the kidnappers than Laura’s own husband. It turns out there is a reason, but no need to reveal that here. And there’s no reason to reveal any of the shame-filled secrets specific to this Spanish family, as their secrets are universal to all families of all nations.
What intrigued me most about this film is what happens when tragedy strikes and how all directly and indirectly involved in the tragedy are forced to “get real” with each other. This is the truth of a tragedy, i.e., the tragedy puts everyone on their best behavior and that behavior is best described as honesty. They say all families have a dark family secret that if exposed would destroy lives, but it’s actually when the dark family secret is NOT exposed that lives are destroyed, maybe not in a dramatic sense, but the dark family secret does become malignant. And sometimes it’s not just one dark family secret; there can be many secrets that EVERYBODY KNOWS but no one is talking about it until emotions are heightened by tragedy and all have to rise to the occasion.
There are so many characters in this film that truthfully when the film started, I had a very hard time keeping track of everyone. But all is forgiven when these characters begin to work on each other (at least on each other’s last nerve) and dots are connected and then the healing begins. Despite the large cast, it is Penelope Cruz as Laura and Javier Bardem as Paco who are our emotional counterparts. And both actors are extraordinary in their performances. Cruz, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Woody Allen’s film, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, gives a compelling and emotionally devastating performance as Laura and, ironically enough, Allen’s film also featured Javier Bardem. These two actors have a great rapport with each other having worked together before, and they are emotionally raw actors, fearlessly forthcoming. Bardem won his Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in the film, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and he gives a towering performance in EVERYBODY KNOWS. All the supporting actors do fine work, and they would have to in order to pull off the emotional landscape of this film.
Once again, I am just in awe of international films when compared to American films that cut so deep, and yet this Spanish international film is about a universal, across-the-globe issue. It’s a film that ends with a resolution to the presented tragedy, but there is no end in sight as one family secret becomes two and three and four and so on. And these secrets won’t stop (the film’s last shot makes this clear) because once the cat is out of the bag, the cat won’t sit still. The cat has been in the bag for a long time and now that he or she is out, the cat will run around and knock things over and scratch and claw at everything. Yes, that is exactly what one family secret revealed can do.
Extraordinary film, extraordinary performances, and an extraordinary message that informs and teaches us that all families are to ditch the ordinariness of their complacency and get extraordinarily emotional about their relationships with one another.