Secret In Their Eyes – Film Review by Pat V.
Director: Billy Ray
Writers: Billy Ray (screenplay), Juan José Campanella (film “El secreto de sus ojos”)
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts
Based on Argentinian director Juan José Campanella’s Oscar-winning foreign language picture from 2009 this Hollywood remake has a stellar cast but lacks the impact or pace of the original. Director Billy Ray (screenplay writer for Captain Phillips and Hunger Games) tries to recreate the uneasy political situation of Campanella’s movie set during Argentina’s military dictatorship by setting a section of his movie in 2002, a few months after the attack on the Twin Towers. Central to his version of the story is the premise that an attack by Islamic fundamentalists is imminent at this time in Los Angeles, generating paranoia and mistrust among the police and politicians.
The story begins in the present day with former FBI agent Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) calling to the office of L.A. District Attorney Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman) because he believes he has found the suspect from a murder case dating from 2002. At that moment Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts playing another FBI agent) walks in looking “a million years old” as Ray later says to her. It is clear that these three were close friends in the past and in flashback we realise that the case Ray wants Claire to reopen is of the rape and murder of Jess’ daughter, Carolyn.
As the film ranges back and forth between 2002 and 2015, a scenario rife with unresolved coincidence unfolds: Ray and Jess were the ones who found Carolyn’s body next to a mosque they had under surveillance, and the suspect may be someone they had been cultivating as an informer. This is followed by two totally unbelievable scenes where they look for, and find, their suspect at a crowded racetrack and later among tens of thousands of spectators at a baseball game at Dodger Stadium. The fact that we know from the start that the culprit has not been imprisoned drains the section set in 2002 of its tension and it is only in the latter part that our attention is held, the final ten minutes being probably the best part of the film.
The three principals do their best with their roles. Chiwetel Ejiofor captures the tortured and obsessed Ray, who feels in part responsible for the death of the young girl. He shows the corrosive effect of guilt by his gradual acceptance to act outside the law, which in the past had meant so much to him. As the distraught mother, Julia Roberts is extraordinary. We have never seen Roberts look like this; haggard, unkempt, ravaged. We believe in her despair and the slide into a kind of madness that makes sense of the end of the film. Kidman is given less to do and at times must have wondered if her role was really necessary at all.
There are good performances and impressive sequences in this film but apart from the larger scale and budget there is little to distinguish it from a police procedural that you might see on TV. For fans of the principal actors this is worth a viewing but it is not a film you will remember long afterwards.