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Review: Argentina, 1985

March 4, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The Oscar-nominated (and Golden Globe-winning) International Feature Argentina, 1985 is a compelling historical drama detailing the lengthy legal process that took place in Argentina in the 1980s to hold members of the country’s former military dictatorship to account for their brutal treatment of political dissidents.

The film is set less than two years after the establishment of Argentina’s democratic government in 1983. The military courts have decided not to press charges against the former dictatorship, leading the government to choose public prosecutor Julio César Strassera (Ricardo Darín) to make a case for bringing criminal charges against them.

Strassera is doing this at great personal risk to himself and his family, facing death threats and intimidation for trying to take down the powerful military leaders. The film follows him has he works with deputy prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani), whose own family has ties to the military, and a team of young lawyers (chosen so they won’t have the same baggage of being seen as communists), to gather evidence of the dictatorship’s brutal crimes and find civilian witnesses who are willing to go on the stand. They are given only a few months to do so before the trial.

One of the most impressive aspects of Argentina, 1985 is the way that director Santiago Mitre, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Mariano Llinás, finds an involving and even entertaining way to tell this potentially workman-like story. Mitre also does a fine job of balancing the film’s serious subject matter with some more playful moments, such as Strassera using his adolescent son Javier (Santiago Armas Estevarena) as his spy.

The 140 minute film does take a little while to get going in the first act, but finds an engaging rhythm as it goes along, with its narrative built around rousing victories and crushing setbacks. One of the most engaging stretches comes over the midsection, as the selected witnesses take the stand, recounting the horrific abuse they endured as political prisoners under the military dictatorship.

The entire production has a maturity to it, doing an excellent job of capturing period details of the 1980s. This includes Javier Juliá’s 1.50:1 cinematography, which also incorporates moments presented in the style of archival footage that are cleverly edited into the courtroom scenes, showing how regular citizens were experiencing the trial on TV broadcasts across the country.

Throughout Argentina, 1985, Mitre combines some of the best elements of courtroom procedural and political thriller, as he skillfully builds to a powerful final act that feels earned. In the leading role, Darín is excellent, carrying the film with his laser-focused but empathetic performance.

Argentina, 1985 is now available to stream exclusively on Prime Video.

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