Secret in Their Eyes

Review by Adam White @__adamwhite

Directed by

Bill Ray

Starring

Chiwetel Ejiofor Julia Roberts Nicole Kidman

Anticipation.

American remakes of foreign hits are rarely any good.

Enjoyment.

Aims for Seven-era Fincher, winds up sub-Prisoners drab.

In Retrospect.

Two great performances squandered in a silly misfire.

Despite the best efforts of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Julia Roberts this remake of Juan José Campanella’s Oscar winner is DOA.

The sort of film that crops up at the tail end of awards season, Secret in Their Eyes has the faint whiff of a well-intentioned, star-heavy endeavour gone terribly awry. A remake of the Oscar-winning Argentinian thriller of the same name from 2009, attempts are made to differentiate the film enough to justify its existence, but it can’t escape pervading silliness.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Julia Roberts are investigative partners Ray and Jess, whose counter-terrorism stake out of an LA mosque in 2002 is interrupted when a body found on the premises turns out to be Jess’ teenage daughter. While Jess quietly implodes, Ray spends the proceeding years obsessively trying to nab the killer. It’s here that both characters intersect with glamorous, by-the-book district attorney Claire, played by Nicole Kidman in a ‘sexy lawyer’ Halloween costume.

The three orbit each other over the course of two timelines set 13 years apart – one culminating in a key suspect walking free, the other initiated in 2015 when Ray decides to pursue a new lead. Through furrow-browed intensity and increasingly frightful wigs, the weight of unresolved questions lingers. For Ray and Claire, a sexual attraction left largely unspoken; for Jess, closure eluding her dead daughter due to various acts of bureaucratic nonsense.

Writer/director Billy Ray largely keeps his story small-scale, eschewing the government corruption element of the original film and substituting it with an initially intriguing but ultimately directionless undercurrent of post-9/11 racial hysteria. Morphing the grieving relation character from an anonymous widower into a tortured female fed is a bold move, but Ray’s direction is otherwise an unrelenting slog. Events play out in a drab cycle of underground parking lots, warehouses and dank legal offices, full of red tape and ludicrously sleazy cops, the gloom and doom only broken up by moments of unintentional comedy.

It’s a pity because Ejiofor and Roberts are both very good. That early moment of grisly discovery, Ejiofor realising the identity of their Jane Doe just as Roberts slips on her CSI gloves nearby, is manipulative cheese on paper, but rendered brutally authentic in the hands of two seasoned pros. It’s the kind of acting deserving of a better movie surrounding it, rather than something in which the key to catching a killer is Nicole Kidman’s blouse fortuitously popping open.

Published 26 Feb 2016

Anticipation.

American remakes of foreign hits are rarely any good.

Enjoyment.

Aims for Seven-era Fincher, winds up sub-Prisoners drab.

In Retrospect.

Two great performances squandered in a silly misfire.

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