Not quite a feast for the eyes

by Shane Dillon

Back in 2009, the low budget Argentinian thriller – El Secreto de sus Ojos – landed amid considerable critical fanfare.
Yet despite a lot of industry recognition (including an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in the 2010 awards), the film passed most of us by unnoticed.
In a day when English language remakes are thin on the ground, Secret in Their Eyes attempts to bottle some of the success of the original and dole it out for a fresh audience.
The result is less of a remake, and more of a power-up, as director Billy Ray (who also gets writing credits for the adapted screenplay) gets to utilise a considerable budget and bring together an incredibly strong cast.
The story follows Ray Kasten (a compelling Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is on a one man mission to resurrect a murder case from 2002.
As ex-FBI, now working privately in a dogged pursuit of justice, Kasten tries to rekindle connections with his original team, which includes Jessica (Julia Roberts), who is the mother of the victim; and Claire (Nicole Kidman), an old flame who has risen up the ranks in the meantime.
Flashing back and forth between the two timelines (which is never quite as smooth as it should be), the complexities of the story begin to emerge.
Kasten follows a chain of evidence, but the person it leads him to (Peaky Blinder’s Joe Cole) is impossible to touch – working as a deeply embedded asset for counter-terrorism, the department want to keep him protected.
When it becomes obvious that pursuing things legally will not bear fruit, then it becomes a moral quandary for Claire, whose bending of the rules for an old flame may cost her a career; and Jessica, who is forced to revisit her daughter’s death a decade on and decide what kind of justice should be meted.
There is a definite old-school vibe to The Secret in Their Eyes, while much of the action unfolds in 2002, the film itself feels like it could have been released a decade earlier.
Billie Ray, whose main strength lies in writing, demonstrates that he has a solid handle on directing.
There is good pace here and some outstanding performances from the leads.
Julia Roberts steals the show with an emotionally raw performance – an early scene where she uncovers her daughter’s body is harrowing.
Ejiofor gets most of the attention, proving himself to be a robust and reliable action lead.
And despite a fine performance from Kidman, it is in her simmering relationship with Ejiofor that Secret in Their Eyes begins to become a little wobbly.
And it is not for lack of chemistry between the two actors, but for having so much focus on having a romantic plot in the middle of a murder investigation.
It is one example of how the old-school sensibilities of Secret in Their Eyes begin to erode the acting flair on the screen. Julia Roberts’ powerful bursts of grief seem somewhat diminished when they are punctuated by thrilling chases through the middle of a baseball game.
It is unfortunate that in a film filled with great actors (including some great supporting work by Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris, and House of Card’s Michael Kelly), there are so many moments of great performance and so few of genuine connection.
A series of overwrought last-minute twists serve as the final nails in the coffin, dragging the movie away from all its star-studded potential and into the murky realm of a feature-length episode of Law and Order. Who said there was any justice in the world?
Verdict: 5/10

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