The opening shot of Everybody Knows is an ominous one. A dusty, run down clock tower clanks and groans before its bells toll loudly, scattering its resident birds to the wind. It’s an obvious but effective way of letting us know that the characters of this world are running out of time, but, unfortunately, Asghar Farhadi’s film never effectively captures this sense of urgency. Its melodramatic, soapy story can be compelling at times, especially when the focus is on an increasingly frantic Javier Bardem, but it gets bogged down in superfluous family feuds and takes too long to reach its conclusion.
Returning to her familial village in Spain from Argentina for a wedding, Laura’s (Penelope Cruz) happy reunions are quickly cut short when her teenage daughter is kidnapped at the reception party from right under everyone’s nose. Utterly distraught, and with her husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) still in Argentina, Laura turns to old flame Paco (Bardem) for help. This central mystery and search is exciting and well-acted from both Cruz and Bardem, as well as a very solid supporting cast, but is interrupted all too frequently by the skeletons in Laura’s family’s many closets. A land dispute, a previous local kidnapping, and class tensions all crop up, sapping energy from the plot without even directly tying into it.
The best parts of Everybody Knows actually come before the central crime. Cruz and Bardem are both fantastically charismatic, and their various dynamics with the different family members are efficiently drawn, making for enjoyably believable and fun scenes of siblings, cousins, and parents and children catching up and swapping old stories. Farhadi takes care getting all his ducks in a row before the main event, and everything is set up with painstaking detail without sacrificing the spirit of festive fun that permeates the wedding celebrations.
From there, it’s an overly slow burn with some clangingly obvious twists that you’ll see coming from a mile off. There are some genuine thrills to be found in Everybody Knows, but nothing very original, and when the ending does finally arrive, it’s not quite satisfying enough to justify the extended wait. Farhadi has made some really stellar dramas in the past, but his first foray into Spanish filmmaking more often than not strikes a vein of mediocrity, elevated by, but also wasting, its lead duo’s star wattage.