If you're a fan of the work of two-time foreign-language Oscar winning director Asghar Farhadi, you will know that he's inclined to construct morality tales ('A Separation'), his films often border on florid melodrama ('The Salesman') and he has a yen for shooting in confined apartments, homes or dwellings ('The Past'). So, it will come as no surprise that all of those elements make appearances in his latest film, the psychological thriller 'Everybody Knows'.
Laura (Penélope Cruz, 'Murder on the Orient Express', 'Grimsby'), a Spanish woman living in Buenos Aires, returns to her hometown outside Madrid for her sister's wedding. She brings along her children, including 16-year-old Irene (Carla Campra) and soon bumps into an old friend, Paco (Javier Bardem, 'Mother!', 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales'). There is a sense of unspoken tension between the two of them. When the power goes out during the wedding reception, Irene goes missing. Kidnappers quickly contact Laura via text message, demanding a hefty ransom. Laura's husband (Ricardo Darín, 'Wild Tales'), who had stayed behind in Buenos Aires, suddenly shows up, casting a suspicious eye on Paco, who is revealed to have some dark history with Laura's family.
Asghar Farhadi's great ability to write tense, engaging scripts around family values, betrayal, tough decisions and social dynamics is on full display again here. No one twists domestics into a web of lies quite like him, getting the audience hooked on the tangle. On the face of it, 'Everybody Knows' is a classic thriller with a whodunit plot, but Farhadi's script means it not only reels in all of the principle characters but some peripheral figures, too... along with a lot of backstory and nastiness, for good measure.
Farhadi lays out the environment, the relationships, and the situation, dropping hints that the viewer will turn over and over in their mind once things inevitably go south. The plot pivots not just around Laura's long time away from home, but also an event that drives the plot straight into mystery territory, while also stirring up old resentments, unresolved class conflict, and long-preserved secrets. It's seemingly an expansion on the central idea of one of Farhadi's earlier films, 'About Elly', in which the title character's unexplained disappearance during a seaside holiday creates tension and inspires recriminations among a group of friends who hardly know her.
The plot pivots not just around Laura's long time away from home, but also an event that drives the plot straight into mystery territory, while also stirring up old resentments, unresolved class conflict, and long-preserved secrets.
As always, Farhadi leans on an expert cast; his three leads, especially, keep the film from settling into anything approaching a comfortable groove. Penélope Cruz steals the show as a terrified mother, but Javier Bardem and the rest of the cast aren't far behind.
The only issue with 'Everybody Knows' lies in the predictability of the big revelation lurking around the midway mark: once the film hits that point, it's a little easy to get ahead of the storyline. So while the film is certainly engrossing, it's not exactly 'Taken' (or even Gabriele Salvatores' 'I'm Not Scared') in the tension and excitement stakes, nor is it new territory for the director.
Regardless, 'Everybody Knows' is a reliable entry from Farhadi and worth checking out - it's another of the writer/director's gripping studies of a family torn asunder by a compounding mess of deception and revelation.