Directed by Billy Ray. Starring Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dean Norris, Michael Kelly.
THE PLOT: Not long after 9/11, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his colleagues at the Counter Terrorism Joint Taskforce in LA are tasked with keeping an eye on a mosque in the city. When a woman’s body is found in a dumpster by the mosque and it turns out the be the daughter of one of the team, obsession and the quest for justice take the team over.
THE VERDICT: ‘Secret in Their Eyes’ is a remake of a 2009 Argentinean film of the same name. Now, however, with the excellent Denis Villeneuve film ‘Prisoners’ so fresh in our minds, this remake feels a lot less fresh than it could.
Chiwetel Ejifor leads the cast as Ray; a tenacious man who is friends with the mother of the slain girl, and more than a little in love with one of his colleagues. Ejiofor does what he can with the role, and does his best to hold the film together and keep it engaging, but he is fighting against a script that feels familiar and underwritten at times. Nicole Kidman plays Claire – the woman Ray is so infatuated with – and actually has rather little to do, until one climactic scene that she manages fine. Julia Roberts plays jess, the mother of the murdered girl. Roberts’ performance is uneven but mostly relatable as she swings from hysteria to shock to rage over the death of her daughter. Alfred Molina, Dean Morris and Michael Kelly feature also.
Although the screenplay is based on the 2009 Argentinean film, a lot of the details and intrigue of the film has been changed or simply removed. Elements remain, but in moving the setting to the US, much has been lost along the way. The dialogue of the film is unremarkable, and many scenes and scenarios feel drawn out and uneven. As well as this, the tension of the film only rises in the final scene, making the events that went before seem flat and meandering.
Director Billy Ray coaxes solid enough performances from the cast of Secret in Their Eyes, but there are times when motivations seem fuzzy and meandering, which means it is hard to root for any of the characters in the end. The pacing of the film feels sluggish for much of the time, meaning everything feels like it takes an age to happen. That said, there is almost enough in Secret in Their Eyes to keep the audience engaged, although many will be wishing for the film to get a move on, and for an awkward scene involving Kidman’s sexuality to be cut entirely.
In all, ‘Secret in Their Eyes’ is a thin remake of an Oscar winning film. The cast do their best with the chances they get, but the film is uneven, badly paced and lacks atmosphere. ‘Secret in Their Eyes’ could have been an engaging thriller, but it lacks substance, strength and an engaging screenplay.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Secret in Their Eyes
Review by Brogen Hayes
2.5A thin remake
  • filmbuff2011

    The Secret In Their Eyes was an excellent Argentinian crime thriller from Juan Jose Campanella, which quite rightfully scooped the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2010. It was also one of this reviewer’s top films of that year… which makes the arrival of a Hollywood English-language remake somewhat disheartening. Dropping ‘The’ to separate it from its source, Secret In Their Eyes tries hard but ultimately fails.

    Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is an investigator who has come back to work for the L.A. District Attorney’s office. There, he’s reunited with his two former colleagues Claire (Nicole Kidman) and Jessica (Julia Roberts). They have a long and complex friendship together. Ray has come back with news that may change everything. He believes that he’s found the missing piece to a 13-year mystery – the brutal rape and murder of Jessica’s daughter Carolyn (Zoe Graham). The story then flashes back to 2002 and explains their history in more detail. Ray is assigned to investigate terrorist activity in the wake of 9/11. Instead, he becomes obsessed with finding and catching Carolyn’s killer. This stirs up all kinds of emotions in the fragile Jessica and icy Claire, who he secretly fancies. Ray will stop at nothing to find the truth about what happened to Carolyn and bring about justice at last for Jessica. The real truth might be too hard to swallow though…

    It helps somewhat to know that Campanella served as an executive producer on this remake. At least we know it’s not some hack job churned out by Hollywood to make a quick buck. The core drama and tension between the three leads is still there, but the remake tries unsuccessfully to change the dynamics of their relationships. Instead, we have Ray falling for Claire rather than Jessica, which undermines the final revelations that form the the real meat of the narrative. It doesn’t help that Kidman is in full ice queen mode, letting Claire keep a professional distance and never really showing that much emotion. Better is Roberts, going the distance in an unshowy role that requires her to look like an ordinary grieving mother rather than America’s sweetheart.

    Director Billy Ray, whose only other credits are Shattered Glass and Breach, tries admirably to keep the plot moving. Ray tries not to ape the original too much, going for a swooping (presumbly drone-shot) camera move over a stadium where our characters are trying to catch a suspect. This is instead of the original’s signature scene – a breathless 5-minute one-take chase over, through and beyond the stadium. It feels less impactful than the original in narrative terms as well. If you don’t really care for the characters that much, then it’s hard to engage with their predicaments. This comes tellingly in the closing scenes, which are matter-of-fact rather than shocking like they were in the original. If you haven’t seen the original (which you should), then you’ll find Secret In Their Eyes to be a reasonably OK thriller. Admirers of the original like this reviewer will be left wanting, deducting a star as punishment for this unnecessary retread. **