A family tragedy that occurs during a family celebration is the catalyst for an unearthing of betrayals, conflicts, and resentments within this expansive, yet closely assembled social circle. “A troubling and upsetting incident that unravels tensions” has been explored in Asghar Farhadi’s previous films such as About Elly (2009), A Separation (2011), and The Salesman (2016), and even when it’s more clumsily composed and less impactful, like it is here, Everybody Knows still retains a fair deal of Farhadi’s filmmaking and storytelling power.
Its build-up, cutting wonderfully amongst this family ensemble as they come together in a Spanish village for a wedding, is filled with leisurely paced jovial celebrations, which oddly make this the stronger and more developed part of the film. But the merriment comes to an end when a family member is kidnapped and the assailants request a lofty sum of money via text message.
From here, the film shifts clunkily from its simple missing person premise into family hysterics over property rights and other frugal money issues. It’s a little disappointing how fairly pedestrian these revelations are in the greater scheme of this familiar thriller concept, however the bulk of the actors and the finer details of the script elevate what could be tiresome soap opera closer to traditional Farhadi territory.
Amidst the large cast, the film mostly focuses on Paco (Javier Bardem) and his old flame, Laura (Penelope Cruz) who take most of the lead in trying their utmost to calmly navigate their way through this criminal predicament. Laura’s husband Ricardo (Ricardo Darín) is brought in to assist them with diffusing the arguing, to not much success.
There are no weak spots in the cast, but this trio of established actors work at their top level. They keep up the sense of urgency as best as the story allows them and elevate some of the problem areas in the script – it can safely be said less competent actors would’ve brought this film down quite a degree.
After an engrossing build-up that establishes a sly sense of curiosity, and the thrilling search that exposes the deeper sense of the family members, Everybody Knows comes to a reasonably unexciting ending that’s not unusual for a missing person film (even if it were released a couple of decades ago). The ordinariness of this ending is still given dramatic weight not only by the circumstances leading up to and surrounding it, but also the tremendous acting from the three leads, as well as Farhadi’s sensitivity, even within this drama-thriller genre.
This is the second time Farhadi has worked outside his native tongue, after the French-language The Past (2013), and both films feel like they’re not quite working at their filmmaker’s full potential. Everybody Knows may exhaust its audience at times, but most times it’s a captivating watch due to the talent involved.
Everybody Knows plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, January 28 to Sunday, February 3, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, February 5 to Sunday, February 10, 8pm.