Asghar Farhadi is a great director known for his highly emotive and intense stories. His latest “Everybody Knows” is Farhadi’s version of a Hitchcock thriller. Though the story has some compelling details, an ominous setting and a great cast, the drama as it unfolds feels rote, derivative and emotionally lethargic.
The film is boosted by the charismatic star power of real life couple Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, but their persona as a couple is not enough to lift the movie out of its comfort zone into something absorbing throughout.
Laura (Penelope Cruz) is taking her family to the wedding of her younger sister Ana (Inma Cuesta). Laura’s husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) can’t make it due to business worries. The family pulls into Laura’s old estate in Spain, the site of the wedding.
Laura’s ex, Paco (Javier Bardem) is close at hand.
When the wedding is in full swing, Laura’s daughter Irene (Carla Campra) is overcome by asthma and goes to her room. Then the power goes out.
Laura goes to Irene’s bed, but she is nowhere to be found. Laura panics.
Irene is missing. Within minutes, Laura gets a message on her smartphone.
It is a ransom text.
Laura questions everyone on the grounds but to no avail. Paco tries to give assistance, but he looks sleepy and dazed, his heart still bruised from Laura’s sudden breakup, sixteen years ago.
Bardem is certainly arresting to watch, but his emotional range does not move much beyond shock in this outing.
Cruz, by the same token is compelling, yet her vocabulary does not register outside of anger and nervous alarm.
Much time is taken up with watching cell phones, interviewing relatives and racing up dusty trails. Javier Bardem has intent watchful eyes but his mumbling dialogue feels flat and contrived.
It is known that the pair share a passionate past, but their scenes together fail to ignite. Bardem seems to be going through the motions of the story, oddly on auto pilot, rather than immerse himself into any intrigue or believable drama.
Similarly, Cruz is in one singular key of high alert.
There are some intriguing notes: a forbidding bell tower out of “Vertigo” and a sinister looking drone.
Aside from these trappings, however, the momentum is stuck in second gear as the exes constantly check their phones and get flustered.
Alejandro himself merely shuffles about, his heavy face a mask of sand, hardly the grieving parent.
Because of such low charge, any surprise feels to be an anti-climax, similar to the Ridley Scott film “All the Money in the World” (2017).
Asghar Farhadi is usually a director of force and emotion. Both “The Salesman” and “A Separation” were gripping and thoughtful, full of cultural complexity and heart. By contrast, “Everybody Knows” feels like a conceptual exercise, tepid and routine. The director’s next voyage will surely be far more potent and powerful, hopefully a welcome return for Farhadi, an uncommon filmmaker.
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