You know the drill by now guys. Whenever there is a big Marvel release, Amy side steps the crowds and slips in to a small screen to see something unheralded instead. I wish Brie Larson and Captain Marvel all the best, but honestly, it’s just not my cup of tea! This early 2019 edition of comic book avoidance has lead me to the door of a Spanish drama/mystery/thriller, original title Todos Lo Saben, translated as Everybody Knows.
The film tells the story of a family wedding and reunion in a picturesque village outside of Madrid. Laura (Penelope Cruz) returns to her hometown with her children in two, only to enter a world of agony and suffering when her teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) is kidnapped for ransom. With the help of old flame and family friend Paco (Javier Bardem), the narrative flows as a mad dash to recover Irene, with old secrets and new grudges coming to the surface, no family member spared their moment of suspicion and drama.
On the whole, the film is pretty standard fair for this kind of kidnap mystery thriller genre. Whilst I can’t say that the plot is entirely predictable, there are certainly a lot of recognisable and anticipated beats along the way. The film maintains enough drama and suspicion to be an engaging watch from start to finish, but there is nothing about Everybody Knows that could be described as mind blowing or truly gripping. Alongside the central focus of Irene’s kidnapping there are more domestic themes and issues such as lost love, jealousy, financial grudges, many of the things that one sees in most run of the mill melodramas, and these help to flesh out the story, even seeming more compelling and interesting at times than the central mystery of the story. And
At over two hours in length, the film does well not to outstay its welcome. The plot covers a lot of ground and, from a personal point of view at least, it doesn’t drag or plod like it so easily could. Compared to many other kidnap drama and thrillers out there, the film stays very small scale, and that definitely works in its favour as the emotions and motivations of the characters come through rather than elaborate fight scenes or car chases.
As somebody who doesn’t watch as many foreign language films as she should, I can’t help thinking that a lot of the intrigue and enjoyment I found within the movie might be down to its novelty ‘otherness’. The audience get a visually pleasing look at a slightly different culture to the usual American or British fair, and the foreign aspect might just make the picture more interesting for me than if it were simply another English language kidnap movie.
Much of the success and matchability of Everybody Knows lays at the feet of its stellar central performers. In truth, both Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem are much too talented and enigmatic to be starring in middling dramas like this, but I can’t say I’m not glad to see them! As Laura, Penelope Cruz is a real scene stealer. She has a natural beauty and star quality that pulls focus from everything else on the screen, and although the film overall is nothing more than ‘good’, she takes some real dramatic, distressed mother style material and makes it gritty and heart wrenching rather than hammy and over the top.
Despite being an Academy Award winner, it feels very much like Cruz is still underrated as an actress. Her status as a sex symbol and willingness to have fun in films like Zoolander 2 and Pirates Of The Caribbean might cause some to forget that she has given generation best performances in the likes of Volver, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and even Nine. Everybody Knows is nowhere near as good as any of those brilliant pictures, but the point remains the Penelope Cruz succeeds in elevating anything in which she stars.
As Paco, Javier Bardem is gives a great performance as the archetypal good egg, childhood sweetheart, boy next door turned to man next door, pillar of strength. His macho charisma suit the role perfectly and there is just something really ruggedly pleasing about the way that Bardem carries himself. He appears right at home playing a sort of understated hero of the piece, not taking names and crushing skulls in the stereotypical Liam Neeson kind of way, but instead using his smarts and leading both his head and his heart lead the way through the mystery. Of course, being a long time married couple in real life does much to help the on screen chemistry between the characters, and Cruz and Bardem are just great to watch as a pair. The film is lucky to have two such accomplished performers leading the way.
Overall, Everybody Knows is a slightly more effective than average kidnap thriller, one that prefers character depth and secrets to big set pieces and edge of the seat action. There is certainly enough tension and intrigue to keep you going, and the film is massively boosted by two central performances that are better than the material itself. It’s not going to stick in the memory for a long time, but it’s definitely a worthy side step companion in another week when Marvel is here to clean up the box office.