Secret in their Eyes

SECRET IN THEIR EYES. Starring Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejlofor, Nicole Kidman, Dean Norris, and Joe Cole. Directed by Billy Ray. Rated M (Mature themes, violence and coarse language). 111 min.

This thriller film is an American remake of the 2009 Argentine film, "The Secret in Their eyes" which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2010. Both movies are based on the 2005 novel, "El Secreto De Sus Ojos" by Argentian author, Eduardo Sacheri. This movie is the looser adaptation of Sacheri's novel.

The relationships among a team of three FBI investigators - Jess (Julia Roberts), Claire (Nicole Kidman) and Ray (Chiwetel Ejlofor), members of a "Counter Terrorism Taskforce" trying to avert another 9/11 attack - are torn apart when Jess's daughter, Carolyn (Zoe Graham), is murdered brutally without obvious reason or apparent intent. Her body was found next to a Mosque in Los Angeles.

After constant searching for the killer, Ray comes across a lead 13 years after the crime was committed and wants the case re-opened. He is certain that the new lead will bring closure to the torment that has affected the team, and Jess in particular. Terrible truths are exposed by his searching, however, and the real motives of those involved come under suspicion. In this film, there is a pervading air of moral ambiguity to nearly all of the main characters, and their motives are never entirely clear. Jess, Ray and Claire, for example, have personal secrets to hide.

In the original movie, a husband loses his wife as the victim of a shocking crime. In this version, a mother loses her loved daughter. The movie fluctuates between a story about human loss involving pain, love and grief, and one about corruption, forced confession, revenge and obsession. Surrounding Jess's grief, vengeance and obsession accumulate destructively, and the question of how far everyone is prepared to go to bring the killer of Jess's daughter to justice becomes a confronting one. Nicole Kidman plays the role of a District Attorney-supervisor caught in the middle of it all. Claire disapproves of the continued involvement of Jess and Ray in the case, but decides to commit herself to bringing the killer to legal justice, if the killer can be found.

The meaning of the title of the film was realised brilliantly in a single scene in the original movie where a quick, sudden movement of the killer's eyes revealed instantly his true identity. In this movie, the dramatic impact of that scene is weakened by the psychological interplay among the various characters involved. In this thriller version, the movie's direction by Billy Ray is controlled, but less intense than in the original. Tension builds up, but at a more sporadic pace. And a love interest between Ray and Claire complicates the basic story-line.

The film is edited, scripted and photographed well, but it attempts too ambitiously to tackle the task of bringing a former, brilliant, award-winning movie ("The Secret in Their Eyes") to the movie screen, by aiming for broader, more culturally-relevant appeal. The hand-picked cast of well-known actors helps in part to achieve this goal. There is a counter-terrorism story-line that is fanned by the events of 9/11, which gives the movie contemporary relevance, but Carolyn's tragic murder is a different plot.

The film brings Julia Roberts back to show something of the dramatic strength that we saw in "Erin" Brockovich (2000). In this movie, Roberts, the high priestess of romantic comedy, takes on the role of a grieving mother with almost as much persistence, but over-plays the grieving mother.

This is a dramatically entertaining thriller, that is well-produced. As a whole, however, it lacks the "noir" dark thrill and the dramatic impact of the original movie. The 2009 original was a riveting depiction of dread that was lurking everywhere. Here, dread is present, but it is absorbed distractingly by the complex depictions of the various motivations of the characters, who are involved.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Roadshow Films

November 19th., 2015