Secret in Their Eyes

I’m guessing this isn’t what Peter Gabriel had in mind. Academy Award winners Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor star in Secret in Their Eyes.

Secret in Their EyesCast of Characters:
Ray Caston – Chiwetel Ejiofor
Claire – Nicole Kidman
Jess Cobb – Julia Roberts
Bumpy Willis – Dean Norris
Reg Siefert – Michael Kelly
Marzin – Joe Cole
Martin Morales – Alfred Molina

Director – Billy Ray
Screenplay – Billy Ray
Based on the novel La pregunta de sus ojos by Eduardo Sacheri
Producer – Mark Johnson & Matt Jackson
Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references

While investigating a potential L.A. terrorist sleeper cell during America’s War on Terror, FBI investigators Ray Caston (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts) are devastated when they discover a recently called-in murder next to the mosque they’re tracking is Jess’s daughter. They are able to find and arrest the primary suspect, but circumstances lead to him being let go.

Thirteen years go by, and Ray, now working as the security chief for the New York Mets, returns to L.A. after uncovering a new lead he believes can permanently close the case. Yet differences between him, Jess and DA Claire (Nicole Kidman) over how to handle it threaten to leave it unresolved.

Secret in Their Eyes is a remake of the 2009 Oscar-winning Spanish film The Secret in Their Eyes, which is based on Eduardo Sacheri’s novel La pregunta de sus ojos. This is the sorta routine crime thriller that would’ve been hailed as a “gripping” back in the ’80s and early ’90s. You know, back when there weren’t 50 million different versions of CSI and Law & Order ruling the airwaves (although the 2009 version did receive critical acclaim and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film).

Writer/director Billy Ray (who previously wrote Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips and the first Hunger Games film) aims to add a little more non-linear style to a crime investigation that’s far from a complex puzzle like Memento in the way he moves back-and-forth between the past and present. The keys used in not throwing viewers off are the gray hair added to Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman going from short to long hair, and Julia Roberts aging about a thousand years. Rife with the usual crime thriller contrivances (can’t go wrong the obligatory suspect chase in the sports stadium, but at least it’s well shot), with some unnecessary filler plot elements thrown in the mix (the romantic angle between Ejiofor and Kidman is treated as if it’s much more important to the story than it really is), Secret in Their Eyes is not exactly the compelling narrative that Ray gave Captain Phillips.

And yet somehow the cast makes this watchable. Sure, the Thursday-night TBS crime drama material doesn’t really deserve a cast this talented, but everyone brings their A-game regardless. Backed up by a solid supporting cast of terrific character actors including Alfred Molina, Dean Norris and Michael Kelly, Ejiofor, Kidman and a game to be dressed down Julia Roberts (her husband, cinematographer Danny Moder, did a bang-up job presenting her in a suitably unflattering light), turn in first-rate performances in a second-rate film.

Ejiofor can evoke so much emotion with just his eyes he could have us all in tears over a rendition of a “Dick and Jane” book. Roberts goes to great lengths in depicting the toll that personal tragedy has had on her. She wants justice for her daughter, but at the same time, she can’t bear to have it all dragged out again after all these years, and it shows in her performance. Kidman, though under-served by the film’s pointless romantic subplot, scores big in a scene-stealing interrogation scene that shows more depth to her character than before where she cuts a suspect down to size better than any “Good Cop/Bad Cop” routine ever could.

The story has something to say about institutional corruption, as well as some philosophical ponderings on both life sentences and the death penalty, but never quite digs deep into either theme. The time and setting of the original film – 1970’s Argentina – allowed the more shocking story aspects revolving around the military dictatorship to work. With the remake, it’s far less plausible. Cops in America today can’t even ask for your license and registration without everyone going hashtag and Facebook photo-sharing crazy. It’s a little difficult to believe a post-21st century FBI would let a nutjob rapist go free ’cause of his role in helping them in the War on Terror.

Then again, they did cut Whitey Bolger quite a bit of slack all those years ago.

Secret in Their Eyes is far from a game-changer in the crime drama genre, and the superfluous romantic angle between Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman doesn’t help by serving as a distraction to the primary conflict. But this is an example of an average film that gets a slight boost from its first-rate cast doing the heavy lifting. While it won’t end up at the top of either Ejiofor, Kidman or Julia Roberts’s resumes, their standout work here provides the film with more compelling punch than it would’ve received without them.

I give Secret in Their Eyes a B- (★★★).


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