Laura (Penélope Cruz), a Spanish woman living in Buenos Aires, returns to her hometown outside Madrid with her two children to attend her sister's wedding. While there, she reconnects with Paco (Javier Bardem) and her family, but when her daughter is kidnapped and held to ransom, secrets long hidden begin to surface.
At just over two hours and ten minutes, 'Everybody Knows' doesn't have the pacing and excitement you'd expect from a kidnap thriller / crime drama in the way that it's billed on trailers. If anything, it's more close to a soap opera story with characters' lives intertwining with one another, secret yearnings and the like, all of which plays out over the course of the story.
Ashghar Farhadi's work, particularly 'A Seperation' and 'About Elly', dives into social structures and class and while he's covered his native Iran extensively, moving the action to Spain makes for a change of pace. By all accounts, it's authentic and the first forty-odd minutes of the movie is setting up both the characters and taking in a traditional Spanish wedding. It's here where the kidnap takes place and, in a regular kidnap story, where you'd expect it to kick into overdrive. Instead, 'Everybody Knows' winds back the pacing and amps up the drama, something that both Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem are more than adept at doing.
That they're married off-screen and already have an intimacy and familiarity doesn't hinder their performances. If anything, they have to bury that because their characters have not seen one another for several years and, as is revealed in the story, left on bad terms. More than this, what 'Everybody Knows' drives at like in Farhadi's previous movies, is the nature of how arguments and conflicts can draw out over years. The resentments and the tension that exists between the family, and between Cruz's on-screen husband Ricardo Darín, is always there underneath the surface and bursts out in different places, further driving the divides between the characters.
The issue, however, with 'Everybody Knows' is that there's a distinct lack of tension or pacing to it that can keep the audience engaged. Instead, it's all on the actors to keep it going and while they're all strong performances, it's not enough to keep it going beyond that. Farhadi's direction and writing is natural and unfettered, and as performances go from Cruz and Bardem, it's some of their best. It's just a shame that 'Everybody Knows' isn't quite as good as you'd hoped it would be.