Mark Reviews Movies

Secret in Their Eyes

SECRET IN THEIR EYES

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Billy Ray

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Joe Cole, Michael Kelly, Alfred Molina, Zoe Graham

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references)

Running Time: 1:51

Release Date: 11/20/15


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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 20, 2015

The American remake Secret in Their Eyes attempts to raise the stakes of its forebear, and in the process, it loses what made The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) such a haunting experience. Everything about the crime plot has been ratcheted up to make the procedure more conspiratorial, the obsession more personal, and the pain more intimate. It's far too much, even without the benchmark of the original film as a comparison. Writer/director Billy Ray has sacrificed subtlety for sensationalism.

It's a loose retelling of Juan Josť Campanella's film, which was itself an adaptation of Eduardo Sacheri's novel La pregunta de sus ojos (the question, not the secret) with the screenplay written by Campanella and the novelist himself. Ray maintains the basic thrust of the story, which moves back and forth in time between an investigation in the past and an attempt to re-open the case in the present, but he also insists on bogging it down in supposed relevance and significance.

Everything in the past takes place several months after the attacks of September 11, 2001. At that time, the main players are part of Los Angeles' counter-terrorism efforts. It doesn't mean anything specific to this story, although it does give certain characters political and paranoid reasons to halt the process of justice in favor of fear over the next possible terrorist attack. Again, it's a bit much, and it shows throughout the movie.

In the present day, Ray Caston (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is the chief of security for a professional baseball club in New York City, and he has spent the past 13 years since leaving the FBI searching through mugshots, looking for one familiar face. Upon finding a promising one, he returns to L.A. to discuss his findings with Claire (Nicole Kidman), who is now the city's district attorney, and his old partner Jessica (Julia Roberts), who is now the prosecutor's chief investigator.

Caston believes the face in the mugshot belongs to the man who murdered Jessica's daughter 13 years prior, and he wants to re-open the investigation. Both of his former co-workers are uncertain. Claire has a political career to maintain, and Jessica has seen possible leads come and go multiple times. She can't take another disappointment.

Instead, Caston enlists the help of Bumpy (Dean Norris), who helped him during his first off-the-books investigation in the most promising suspect. Back then, Marzin (Joe Cole), the man Caston was and is certain killed Jessica's daughter, was an informant within a mosque suspected of terrorist leanings. Siefert (Michael Kelly), the guy's handler, and Morales (Alfred Molina), the D.A. at the time, were never sure of Caston's hunch, based on a photo of Marzin staring at Jessica's daughter at an office picnic. Plus, they were worried that any interruption to the informant's work would jeopardize the investigation of the mosque.

Caston didn't listen then. He's definitely not going to listen now after 13 years of searching.

The two through lines for Caston are ones of regret. First and foremost is his guilt over his inability to bring Marzin to justice and his belief that he was in some way responsible for the murder of Jessica's daughter, due to plans with her that he cancelled at the last minute. Second is his unrequited love for Claire, who was engaged to be married then and is married now. Those familiar with Campanella's film will recall that the second was of primary concern to that story. Here, it's set aside, with hasty and unconvincing moments of Caston and Claire flirting like teenagers or holding hands like schoolchildren at times when such behavior seems awkward, given the intensely personal nature of Caston's obsession.

This version is far more interested in the procedural elements of the story, and they're equally unpersuasive. Jessica's role as a member of law enforcement is an obstacle to the investigation. Caston and the team try to keep her away from Marzin and any evidence they may have on him, lest that evidence become inadmissible in court (That concern, though, doesn't stop Caston from letting Jessica contaminate the actual crime scene upon discovering the body, in a scene that seems to exist solely for a big Acting showcase for Roberts).

That notion becomes almost laughable when we see Caston and Bumpy engage in unlawful ways to obtain evidence and Caston viciously beat Marzin after he insults Claire during an interrogation. Instead of the simple and obvious reasons that this case would fall apart, Ray offers a conspiracy that only serves to diminish our view of the characters' responsibility for what went wrong.

The movie perhaps best serves as a primer for those unfamiliar with the original film, which is a richer, far more complex work (The ending, in particular, not only contradicts a character's firm stance on justice but also resolves things in the simplest of ways). As a standalone movie, Secret in Their Eyes takes a promising story about long-seated remorse and turns it into a routine one that is more concerned with its plot than with its characters.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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