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With: Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darín, Bárbara Lennie, Inma Cuesta, Elvira Mínguez, Eduard Fernández, Ramón Barea, Sara Sálamo, Carla Campra, Roger Casamajor, José Ángel Egido, Sergio Castellanos, Jordi Bosch, Jaime Lorente
Written by: Asghar Farhadi
Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Language: Spanish, Catalan, with English subtitles
Running Time: 132
Date: 02/08/2019

Everybody Knows (2019)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Slippery Soap

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This might have been a pretty good kidnapping story, but writer/director Asghar Farhadi goes soft; he slows it down to the point of almost stopping it, and emphasizes goopy, over-the-top soap opera.

In Everybody Knows, a big family assembles in a small town outside of Madrid for a wedding. Laura (Penelope Cruz) arrives from Argentina with her teen daughter Irene (Carla Campra) and young son. Her husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin), who has been out of work, stays behind. Already there is Paco (Javier Bardem), who is now married to Bea (Barbara Lennie), though he and Laura were childhood sweethearts.

The family has a grudge against Paco for buying their land cheap and turning it into a profitable winery. Other family dramas come out, breakups, aging parents, etc., and then the wedding begins. It's a joyous celebration and it goes late into the night. The power goes off, and when Laura goes looking for Irene, she has vanished. A ransom text appears; the kidnappers want $300,000. How will they get the money, and what other secrets will be revealed in the meantime?

The story of Everybody Knows stays only with the family; the kidnappers are not shown until the end. The movie even brings in a savvy ex-cop who gives hints, such as that the kidnapper had inside information and could be someone close, but the movie never provides any useful puzzle pieces. In one scene, several members of the family watch the wedding video intently, looking for any kind of clue; the scene goes on for minutes, but... nothing.

Instead Farhadi seems to want to focus on motivations of parents and children, but ends up avoiding the issue more than he explores it. The movie's main drive comes with revealing high-gloss secrets with a gasp, but without any suspense or buildup, without any kind of puzzle. It's no fun.

The Iranian-born Farhadi is a double Oscar-winner in the Best Foreign Language Film category (A Separation, The Salesman) and he pitches everything too high; he seems lost when it comes to making movies for regular audiences. The main saving grace is married couple Cruz and Bardem, who have already shared the screen many times and have a strong chemistry together. Their nuanced performances often manage to keep the shrill drama at a more level playing field.

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