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Everybody Knows
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by Jay Seaver

"A decent, if not thrilling, abduction drama."
3 stars

Right about halfway through "Everybody Knows", I had a horrible thought - what if this is one of those art-house thrillers where we just tread water for a couple hours, nothing is resolved, and the audience is expected to nod appreciatively at the truth of how nobody can ever really know anything for sure? Those films may not be bad by definition, but they can be rote and deflating unless there's something more interesting than the crime itself exposed. This film is not quite that sort of thing, but it's not far off.

It starts out enjoyably enough, with Laura (Penélope Cruz) returning to her hometown in Spain for the first time in a few years for the wedding of her sister Ana (Inma Cuesta), bringing teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) and adorable moppet Diego (Iván Chavero) while husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darín) is stuck in Argentina on something work-related. It's a big, fun event, including not just family but Paco (Javier Bardem), her best friend since childhood and his wife Bea (Bárbara Lennie). It's eventful enough that nobody thinks much of it when the boisterous Irene starts to drag relatively early, but when Laura goes to check on her kids later, Irene is missing and clippings from newspaper articles about an abduction a few years back on on her bed. Texts warning not to call the police soon follow, and by the next morning, everybody is well on their way to looking with suspicion at the troublemaking teens in Bea's class, the migrant workers at Paco's winery, the way Laura's father has made enemies all over town, and how Alejandro is maybe not quite so successful as folks in town think.

Looking at this film's running time, one might think that it's got a somewhat leisurely pace for a thriller, but a lot of that comes from a first act of getting to know everybody that is actually quite charming; writer/director Asghar Farhadi captures the feeling of going to a wedding and not really knowing a fair chunk of people there, quickly catching up with others around the actual purpose, cousins falling in together despite not seeing each other in years, etc. It's a fine introduction to Irene as well, establishing her as reckless but sweet and enough of a wild card to make the minutes after her disappearance feel like they could go in a lot of directions Farhadi hints at the fractures that will show up later but gets the audience to enjoy it, getting through a lot of prep with a smile on its collective face.

Soon enough, it becomes a missing-persons story, but the sort that sometimes has a little trouble with forward momentum, mostly becoming a wait-and-stew game. The sad thing about it is, it's not truly incisive while it meanders about not really solving its kidnapping; there are a couple angles that seem like they could be interesting or at least inflammatory, but not much comes of them, in terms of this crime bringing something bigger to light. As a mystery, there are a lot of characters, but they're not fleshed out enough to become suspects. There's a secret or two that could lead to some tension, but like the title says, everybody knows, and the film never really focuses on how the millimeter between that and having it out in the open can change everything.

Are the some nice performances? Sure; Penélope Cruz is there, after all, and even if she's spending a lot of time doing "mother paralyzed with terror" cranked to 11, she's too good to overlook in the scenes around that - when Farhadi has her harnessing Laura's desperation, she's an impressive example of how a crisis can make someone simultaneously lost and focused. Similarly, Javier Bardem is exactly what every scene he's in needs, making Paco jovial and well-meaning almost to a fault but nobody's fool when someone is trying to take advantage of that. He walks the high wire of his character's sincere love for two women nicely, and Bárbara Lennie is quite good as Bea, a strong personality that also captures the tendency to go a bit far. There's a rock-solid supporting cast around them, and the filmmakers never make the big cast feel over-crowded; everyone has a purpose in every scene, even if it's just kids playing in the background to remind the audience just how inwardly-directed this can be.

I must admit, though, my favorite character wound up being Jorge (José Ángel Egido), the retired detective friend of an in-law. He feels like a veteran of a long series of mystery novels who has retired to this quiet Spanish town and pulls the necessary connections and clues out of everyone else with practiced ease, pushing everything forward, sometimes setting people against each other so he can see how they react; he's the genre film character brought in when the story needs a bit of a push. I can't help but think, watching those scenes that the filmmakers might have been better off embracing the genre elements and making a less elevated mystery, because the mystery getting solved is where you really see the rocks get turned over and everything revealed.

The very presence of this guy indicates that "Everybody Knows" isn't so abstract as to be dull, but it's also never quite so engaged as to be thrilling. It's a film that never stumbles but also never does anything bold, with Farhadi doing the best he can to create art-house ambiguity and mainstream tension but not making something greater. It's a movie for people who like mysteries but not violence, though without the quiet joy of problem-solving that the best cozies feature.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32691&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/17/19 06:15:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 AFI Fest For more in the 2018 AFI Fest series, click here.

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USA
  08-Feb-2019 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  08-Feb-2019




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