Film Review – Secret in Their Eyes
Secret in Their Eyes
English language remakes of prized foreign language films has become standard in Hollywood. Knowing that the average American audience doesn’t have the attention span for reading subtitles, film companies will often turn their gaze towards foreign intellectual properties they can pilfer and repackage into a palatable product. Sometimes it works like gangbusters (i.e. The Departed). Other times, it really really doesn’t (i.e. Dinner for Schmucks). Originally an Oscar winning Argentinian film, Secret In Their Eyes is a middling remake that features a notable cast.
Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as a former agent for Homeland Security who is now working a simple job as security for the New York Mets. He’s been preoccupied with an old case and thinks he’s found a lead which he brings back to the current Attorney General played by Nicole Kidman. His former partner played by Julia Roberts is still in law enforcement and is still interested as well. You see, through frequent flashbacks we quickly learn that Roberts’ daughter was found raped and murdered 13 years earlier outside a Mosque they had been monitoring. The film jumps back and forth between the current timeline and 13 year previous to tell the complete story of the investigation into the murder. There are cross political motivations at play as well as slowly revealed twists.
On the very plus side, you can’t do better than this top notch cast. The increasingly great Dean Norris (so memorable on Breaking Bad) has a supporting role as a part of the team investigating the murder. Alfred Molina appears as a shady attorney who happens to be in charge at Homeland Security. Michael Kelly, of House of Cards fame, is no stranger to playing a possibly underhanded figure in the department. Nicole Kidman has many scenes where she has to balance flirtation with the main character and resisting due to complicating the investigation or staying true to her husband. Ejiofor brings proper gravitas to his role as an agent whose been living with a lot of regret over not solving such a personal case for so long. You really buy him as a regretful hero. And honestly, I don’t feel I’ve been able to say this in a long while, but Julia Roberts is best thing about this movie. She wears her pain and sorrow in every glance throughout the film. When they first discover her daughter, her breakdown is palpable. She goes into full de-glamour mode. One of the most high profile actresses in show business shows here that she’s still able to dig deep for a role. At one point Ejiofor’s character tells her that she looks a hundred years old and that seems about right.
The biggest downside to Secret in Their Eyes is simply, for as serious and heartfelt as it all is, it’s not moving enough. This is difficult material dealing with heinous crime, debates over justice versus the need to protect against terrorist attacks, and lots of grief. And yet it’s hard to be truly moved or outraged. The big plot reveals don’t feel all that surprising. This movie plays a lot like a well acted episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or one of those BBC cop shows that are often remakes of shows from other countries like Wallander or Line of Duty. Speaking of the BBC, they’ve already covered the morally conflicted black cop dealing with ugly crimes on the terrific show Luther. It’s not that Secret in Their Eyes is a bad movie. It just feels very much in line with these kind of character driven yet dark cop shows that often have limited runs on British TV. It’s not really a big screen experience.
If anything is to be remembered or taken away from Secret in Their Eyes, it’s that Julia Roberts can still act. She is able to elevate this film a bit above it’s standard trappings. This movie respects it’s characters, but it ends up feeling about average.