FILM REVIEW: "Everybody Knows", but does anybody care?
Everybody Knows is a slow burn. The film opens with a carefully shot study of a rundown clocktower and its mechanisms. It’s a very tactile opening with great sound design that lingers on each movement of the different parts that make up this whole. It’s also a simple but very effective metaphor for the film itself.
The film’s opening act is leisurely. Which is good, because there are a lot of characters to meet. Laura (Penélope Cruz) and her two children are returning to her hometown near Madrid for her sister’s wedding. We are introduced to her sisters, her father, her cousins and family friends in quick succession. Amongst them is Paco (Javier Bardem), a local vineyard owner and Laura’s childhood sweetheart. He’s a likeable and lively character who steals a lot of scenes early on as the wedding progresses from ceremony to drunken revelry at the hotel they’ve rented out for the event.
With all the players in place, the first act does a great job of building up tension. The director (Asghar Farhadi) dangles multiple possibilities for disaster before us amidst scenes of this loving family celebrating together. Unfortunately, this is the obvious high point of the film. It reaches a crescendo following the inciting incident with palpable tension and some genuinely affecting emotion (from Cruz especially). But then it descends into scene after scene of the family mourning and bickering amongst themselves without any real sense of escalation for almost two hours.
It is perplexing that Everybody Knows brands itself a ‘psychological thriller’. It feels more like a domestic drama that focuses on the relationship between Laura and Paco. And that version of the film could have worked - Cruz gives a believable turn as a distraught person unsure where to turn in the face of tragedy and I totally bought into Bardem’s commitment to this family despite not truly being a part of it. Their history (and the broader family history) are uncovered through a series of well-acted interactions which feel real. The problem is that they’re almost too real: the dramas that bloom amidst these characters simply seem too mundane or unsurprising for the silver screen.
Yes, the performances are good. The cinematography too, although the camera is often so focused on the characters’ interactions that there isn’t much of a sense of place throughout. I just wish the film wasn’t so boring. Its press claims that Laura’s trip is ‘upset by unexpected events that bring secrets out into the open.’ But it’s more like ‘event.’ Singular. And ‘secret’. Singular. And it never really feels as if the stakes are raised after that solid first act.
In fact, by the time the film meandered towards its abrupt climax after so many recursive scenes spent with a family I hardly knew or cared about (most of whom have little bearing on the plot), I found myself struggling to pay attention. If anything, I was annoyed that it had failed to deliver on the promise of that tense opening act. Everybody Knows is, indeed, a slow burn. But no one wants to watch a fuse for two hours. Especially when there are no fireworks at the end of it.
3 out of 5 stars
Everybody Knows is showing at UWA Somerville until 3rd Feb and at ECU Joondalup Pines from the 5th-10th Feb. Click here for tickets.