Film: Cruz is luminous, Bardem brooding in slow-burning thriller Everybody Knows

Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in Everybody Knows
Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in Everybody Knows Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in Everybody Knows

EVERYBODY knows fragments of the truth in writer-director Asghar Farhadi's slow-burning thriller but piecing together this mosaic of desire and regret across the class divide is another matter entirely.

Set against the backdrop of a family wedding with a full complement of underlying tensions, Everybody Knows orchestrates the abduction of a teenager, then sows seeds of mistrust between guests as the clock ticks down on a ransom demand.

The precision-engineered narrative provides Farhadi's picture with dramatic momentum and a sense of jeopardy, and his lean script withholds the identity of the captor(s) until the final act.

He generates palpable heat from the on-screen pairing of husband and wife Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, luminously photographed by cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine.

They implode on cue as emotionally damaged characters face the repercussions of their shared past.

Farhadi, a two-time winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for A Separation and The Salesman, has a sharp eye for the ebb and flow of human interaction and he sketches lovely moments between protagonists.

Unfortunately, his resolution feels underpowered and you can second-guess one twist far in advance of the tear-sodden big reveal.

Laura (Cruz) returns to her Spanish homeland from Argentina with her children Irene (Carla Campra) and Diego (Ivan Chavero) to attend the wedding of her younger sister Ana (Inma Cuesta).

Her architect husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) remains in Buenos Aires for work so Laura spends precious time with loved ones including her father Antonio (Ramon Barea), older sister Mariana (Elvira Minguez) and childhood friend Paco (Bardem).

Meanwhile, Irene explores the belfry of a local church with Paco's nephew Felipe (Sergio Castellanos), who draws her attention to initials carved into the stonework.

"Your mother and Paco. They were in love. Everybody knows," confides Felipe.

During the wedding reception, the town suffers a power cut and under the cover of darkness, Irene is kidnapped. The abductors issue a ransom demand by text for €300,000. Alas, Laura doesn't have the money.

The family closes ranks to avoid alerting the police and Paco takes charge of raising funds.

Everybody Knows promises more than it ultimately delivers but Farhadi confidently holds our attention for more than two hours as his slippery plot uncoils.

He conjures a vivid sense of community and relishes the opportunity to test the ties that bind friends and neighbours on the sleepy outskirts of Madrid.

Cruz is luminous as a wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown, whose primary concern is her imperilled flesh and blood, and Bardem is a brooding physical presence.

EVERYBODY KNOWS (15, 133 mins) Thriller/Romance. Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Barbara Lennie, Carla Campra, Jose Angel Egido, Ivan Chavero, Elvira Minguez, Inma Cuesta, Ramon Barea, Sergio Castellanos, Eduard Fernandez. Director: Asghar Farhadi

RATING: 6.5/10

Released: March 8 (UK & Ireland)