Film Review: Secret in their Eyes (★★)

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secret_in_their_eyes_ver5Talk about an English language remake that has its meaning get lost in translation. Secret in their Eyes, an update of the Academy Award winning film The Secret in their Eyes, is a pointless thriller that neglects almost all of the original’s subtext. The end result is a bland investigative procedural that’s well acted but desperate to feel important and only in existence because audiences reject subtitles. Writer/director Billy Ray has made what amounts to a classy CSI episode here, and that’s not quite acceptable to me, particularly when you can clearly see that this was originally an R rated film neutered down to get a PG-13 rating. To be fair, Julia Roberts is very good here, with Chiwetel Ejiofor pretty solid as well, but it’s not nearly enough to overcome the sense that there’s just no reason for this version of the movie to exist. Secret in their Eyes makes a number of choices to Americanize the story, but they just seem flimsy to me. If you’ve never seen the original flick, I suppose this could work as a disposable bit of crime drama/thriller entertainment, but I still have my doubts. The Secret in their Eyes is out there, so there’s really no reason to bother with this one. I’m sure a remake could have worked, had other choices been made, but this one just doesn’t. Secret in their Eyes is a money grab that isn’t worth the talent of those involved with it.

Set both in the present day and 13 years ago, the film follows the obsessive investigation of a murder. In 2002, mere months after 9/11, a team of up and coming investigators, are working a potential terrorist cell in Los Angeles. Ray (Ejiofor) and Jess (Roberts) have a friendly relationship, while the former is harboring a schoolboy crush on their supervisor Claire (Nicole Kidman). The dynamic of the group is suddenly torn apart when they discover that Jess’ teenage daughter has been brutally murdered outside the mosque they’re surveilling. Jess retreats into grief, while Ray begins a hunt for the killer. Claire is on board but wary of messing up her future, while Ray gets help from the likes of Bumpy (Dean Norris) and advice to move on from Siefert (Michael Kelly) and boss Morales (Alfred Molina). When the main suspect Marzin (Joe Cole) turns out to be a potentially valuable terrorist informant, Ray’s advice to let it go turns to orders. In the present day, Ray works in the private sector as head of security for the New York Mets, while Claire is Los Angeles county District Attorney and Jess is her head investigator. Believing he’s rediscovered Marzin under a new identity, he returns to LA in order to try to finally bring closure to the case. Those unfamiliar with the source material might be surprised by what happens next, but at the same time, it’s a twist you can pretty easily see coming.

file_604528_secret-in-their-eyes-remakeI will admit to being impressed by the performance that Julia Roberts gives her. Rumors had been flying that this was a top notch job on her part, and those rumors are well founded. Roberts ably depicts someone in the long term grip of depression and grief. I might even go so far as to say it’s the best performance she’s given in a number of years. Chiwetel Ejiofor is very solid here, though slightly underwhelming in this part, I must say. For someone so consistently great, he keeps this part so low key that when he has his explosions, instead of seeming like great character moments, they just appear out of place. Ejiofor is good, don’t get me wrong, but he’s been better. Nicole Kidman is fine, but her character is the thinnest of the main three, mostly just popping up when the plot requires it. The romantic flirtation subplot between Ejiofor and Kidman is also poorly handled, with a lack of chemistry between the two. The supporting parts for Michael Kelly, Alfred Molina, and Dean Norris aren’t particularly demanding, though they all do credible jobs, while Joe Cole is sufficiently disgusting as the suspect. Also in the cast is Zoe Graham as Jess’ daughter, along with Patrick Davis, Don Harvey, and Lyndon Smith, among others, but Roberts is the one who manages to shine.

As a filmmaker, Billy Ray is usually pretty consistent, whether he’s writing or directing, though this is a definite step back from him. I just don’t see why Ray was compelled to make this. Secret in their Eyes is so inferior to The Secret in their Eyes, it’s hard to know what was on his mind. Changing the Dirty War of the original to the War on Terror here is a downgrade, while nothing is added by changing who the victim is. There’s also less art on display, particularly during a stadium set-piece, as well as the meaning of the title being more or less disregarded. For someone who previously directed Breach as well as Shattered Glass, this is very disappointing. His writing is laughably hard boiled at times, while his direction is inconsistent, sometimes resembling a Saw movie during a big reveal. Alas.

Again, I suppose there’s a chance to dig Secret in their Eyes if you haven’t seen the original, but knowing that there’s a superior version of something out there, why would you bother with this one? It’s competent enough, but overly enamored with twists you can see coming a mile away. Do yourself a favor and seek out the Oscar winning original. This one is needlessly sanitized (again, that PG-13 rating looms large here). Secret in their Eyes isn’t especially bad, but it’s not nearly good enough to recommend…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!