Between its high-stakes whodunnit, moral dilemmas and juicy family gossip constantly being revealed, viewers will find themselves hooked instantly.
The film’s plot sees Laura (Cruz) and her two children return to her tight knit hometown for a wedding, only for her daughter Irene (Carla Campra) to disappear under suspicious circumstances. A text message soon arrives from kidnappers demanding a ransom, which sounds a bit like a rehash of story beats from Taken at first glance, but Farhadi instead uses it as a springboard for exploring his characters and their relationships. For instance, although Paco (Bardem) is treated like another
member of Laura’s immediate family, many years ago he was merely the son of their servant. A successful vineyard owner by the time we are introduced to him, Paco becomes torn between helping his lifelong friends and respecting the boundaries of their family; after all, he’s built up his own life by this point. Similarly, Laura’s parents and siblings each form their own theories for who is behind the kidnapping and what should be done to get Irene back, which inevitably clash and make for some classic ‘dinner table argument’ scenes. While I can’t say whether any of them are ultimately right without the risk of spoiling some excellent twists, I found the resolution to each mystery Farhadi teased to be highly satisfying.
As my focus on his character’s arc may have suggested, Bardem is easily the standout among the film’s impressive cast. While English-speaking audiences will most likely recognise him from a memorable string of villainous turns (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men), Paco is Bardem’s most thoughtful and charming role since Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’m admittedly a sucker for any actor successfully playing against type, yet watching Bardem exhibit a full gamut of emotions throughout EVERYBODY KNOWS truly reveals how under-utilised he is as a character actor, at least in his English roles. Cruz is unfortunately given less to do, which surprised me given how well Farhadi’s scripts usually flesh out their protagonists. Nevertheless, her portrayal of Laura’s unthinkable loss makes the most of its limited scope; even when she’s relegated to the background of a scene, Cruz is able to say more with simple looks than plenty of lesser actors could with monologues.
It’s also worth noting that, their characters’ long friendship notwithstanding, Farhadi thankfully resists the urge to stunt cast real-life couple Bardem and Cruz as husband and wife here; from Eyes Wide Shut to By the Sea, such a move has consistently proven to detract from performances. By contrast, Laura’s husband Alejandro is played by Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin, who brings an enigmatic calmness perfect for a character whose absence looms over the film’s first half. When Alejandro finally arrives, EVERYBODY KNOWS’ drama kicks into its highest gear as secrets quickly spill out, allowing the supporting cast to shine and carry their own remarkably well opposite Bardem and Cruz. In fact, despite Farhadi’s interest in family dynamics being clear from his past work, this is the largest ensemble I’ve ever seen him work with. While he certainly succeeds at delivering the tension a kidnapping plot requires, I was most impressed by how well this is combined with an intricately woven web of relationships. EVERYBODY KNOWS is a consistently captivating, fascinating career move that proves Farhadi is a filmmaker who’s (forgive me,) well worth knowing about.