Secret in Their Eyes (2015)
The truth lies in the most unexpected places
Secret in Their Eyes is director Billy Ray’s attempt at reshaping the highly acclaimed 2009 Argentinian film El secreto de sus ojos for contemporary English speaking audiences, a remake that’s primarily targeted towards (let’s face it) those who ‘don’t want to read subtitles.’ Having never seen director Juan José Campanella’s original masterwork — which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010 — and knowing very little about the said picture, I went into this rehash fresh, without any preconceived thoughts or notions, armed with the mindset to judge Ray’s revision on its own merits. Alas, Secret in Their Eyes follows conventional thriller framework with director Billy Ray, Shattered Glass (2003), setting it against a post 9/11 backdrop, delivering an American twist on the material for the sake of a wider Western appeal.
The year is 2002 and District Attorney investigator Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts), FBI agent Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and D. A. Deputy Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman) are all heavy hitters in their respective fields of work, having been selected to serve on the anti-terrorism joint task force post 9/11. Jess and Ray are close-knit partners and friends who share a mutual respect for one another, both on and off the filed, while Ray and Claire air a complicated romantic chemistry that’s clearly visible throughout their day-to-day dealings.
When Ray and Jess are sent to investigate a murder scene at a mosque (which is believed to be terror related), they discover the unthinkable — that the victim is in fact Jess’ teenage daughter, Carolyn (Zoe Graham). Unfortunately, when Ray and Jess team up with Claire to bring the alleged killer, Marzin (Joe Cole), to justice, the threesome discover that the suspect is an important undercover informant who’s being protected by a federal witness, and is thus set free. Time passes and our three leads part ways, carrying with them heavy wounds that refuse to fade. Flash to 2015, thirteen years later, and Ray returns to Los Angeles with a new lead on the old case, intent on convincing Claire to reopen the investigation.
Interweaving the shattering events of the past against a grim present-day Los Angeles setting, Secret in Their Eyes delves into themes of loss and betrayal, exploring the depths that some are willing to go in order to right unjust wrongs, marring the personal with the political. Presented through time jumps between the past and present, mostly recognizable by hair cues — Ray gets silver streaks in his later days while fellow cop Bumpy Willis (Dean Norris) looses his locks — Secret in Their Eyes mostly plays out like a by-the-numbers rework — from what I’ve heard the film essentially presents the same emotional beats of its predecessor without reaching any of its poignancy or breakneck tension.
Admittedly, Billy Ray’s screenplay isn’t half bad, even if it throws plausibility out the window in an effort to get from point A to point B; for instance, in one scene, our protagonists attend a baseball game, solely on their speculation that the guy they’re after is a huge Dodgers fan, then mere moments later, they spot him just a few rows behind — what are the chances, hey? Substituting Argentina’s early ‘80s Dirty War with the events of September 11, Ray’s post 9/11 spin also feels a little ham-fisted, superficial and exploitative, added simply to utilize the era’s hysteria and paranoia while providing a plot device to set the killer loose.
Even so, there’s a lot of talent working on the project. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave (2013), is convincing as Ray Kasten, a retired fed who’ll stop at nothing until he catches the man responsible for raping and murdering the 17-year-old Carolyn. Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich (2000), fishes for Oscar bait as the grieving mother Jess Cobb, delivering a passable performance while avoiding make-up in order to look ‘run down’ — there’s a powerful scene in the film where Jess discovers her daughter’s corpse in a dumpster, bar that one moment, Roberts fails to really register.
The chilly Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge! (2001), comes off as a bit detached playing Claire Sloan, a D. A. who’s apparently as smart as a whip, portraying that ‘it girl’ who’s almost impossible to get over. Maybe Kidman’s disconnectedness is sorta intentional seeing as Ray’s return serves as an unwelcome reminder of the near-love affair they almost ignited and the concessions they had to make in the wake of the tragedy. With that stated however, Ejiofor and Kidman share little to no chemistry whatsoever in their unconvincing starry-eyed subplot. Alfred Molina, Chocolat (2000), elevates proceedings (slightly) in his role as D. A. Martin Morales — Claire’s new boss — while Michael Kelly from television’s House of Cards (2013) hams it up as Kasten’s arrogant colleague, Reginald ‘Reg’ Siefert.
Laced with several ‘stock’ cop flick clichés, Secret in Their Eyes is rather procedural and sports a cheap looking aesthetic with the cinematography by Daniel Moder, Plush (2013), suggesting that one might be watching an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999) on the big screen — a pretty good one, but even so, I kinda expected more. While it evidently lacks the ‘oomph’ of its source, Secret in Their Eyes still receives a passing grade (in my book) thanks to the efforts of its first-rate cast, chiefly Ejiofor, who clearly deserves better. If you really want my advice though, I’d say skip this one and hunt down the original.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Secret in Their Eyes is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia