REVIEW — “Secret in Their Eyes”
Led by a high-caliber cast, Secret in Their Eyes is an emotionally raw thriller that unfolds as more of a noir character study than a suspenseful crime drama. The film examines the effects of grief, obsession and regret on the relationships of a group of colleagues over the course of 13 years.
An adaptation of the 2009 Academy Award-winning Best Foreign Language Picture, El Secreto De Sus Ojos, Secret in Their Eyes begins in post-911 Los Angeles as close friends and FBI agents Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Jess (Julia Roberts) are dispatched to a crime scene. Their lives are forever shattered when the victim is identified as Jess’ teenage daughter, Carolyn (Zoe Graham). This devastating event triggers a manhunt that divides their department, challenges their code of ethics and threatens Ray’s relationship with district attorney Claire (Nicole Kidman). Frustrated by a corrupt system, Ray and Jess set off on separate paths to find justice by any means necessary – only to reunite years later after Ray’s search uncovers a lead that may bring closure and reveal a long-buried secret.
For her role as a grieving mother, Roberts completely sheds her glamorous “Pretty Woman” image. Raw, broken and aged by grief, Roberts’ face manifests the pain that is slowly killing her character from the inside. In the scene where she discovers her daughter, Roberts channels true devastation – a living nightmare – and it is heartbreaking to watch. Throughout the film, her grief turns into anger and then vengeance as the justice she seeks for this crime is sabotaged by those in power. Unfortunately, Roberts is absent for large chunks of the film, as her character’s relationship to the victim is cause for her removal from the case.
Ejiofor, meanwhile, is as intense as ever portraying a tormented former agent determined to find a killer. His obsession is palpable – you can hear it in his voice and see it in his eyes. In addition to his quiet rage there is also a tender sub plot of unrequited love between his and Kidman’s characters that is prevented not only by her engagement to another man, but his relentless pursuit of Carolyn’s killer.
While Kidman’s star has not shined as brightly in recent years, she brings she her usual caliber of talent to her role as an ambitious, by-the-book district attorney. To her advantage, she shares most of her time on-screen opposite Ejiofor. The believability of her flirtatious attraction with his character is largely due to his charisma – which unlocks a glow from Kidman I’ve not witnessed in years. Most of her recent roles call for either cold and calculating or prim and proper. It’s an unfortunate typecast that has kept her relatabilty at arm’s length from the audience. In fact, it wasn’t until a recent hilariously awkward appearance on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon (in which she revealed her failed attempt at dating the host) that I related to her as a real person. The uncomfortable honesty of that interview humanized her in ways many of her roles have not. In this film, she taps into that vulnerability and uses it to both enhance the honesty of her love affair with Ejiofor and, in a particularly powerful scene, mask her intelligence when she manipulates the main suspect by using her beauty to emasculate a confession out of him.
Writer/director Billy Ray’s (Breach) film is marketed as an ensemble piece in which all three leads share equal billing; however, Ejiofor’s character drives the story. The film also features strong supporting performances from Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Michael Kelly (House of Cards) and Alfred Molina. Yet despite solid work from its all-star cast, the film suffers from pacing issues due to frequent flashbacks and flash-forwards. These indistinguishable and sporadic jumps between 2002 and 2015 are identifiable only by the characters’ changing hairstyles and often stifle the story’s built-up tension. This creates a clunky narrative that undermines the story and relies more on forced exchanges and hand-wringing than it does suspenseful action and meaningful character revelations.
The film’s saving grace comes at the end when the big secret is revealed. It’s a decent shocker which tries to mimic a Usual Suspects-level twist, but comes up short.
Secret In Their Eyes is a bleak film with minimal thrills, an average twist, and a story that plays like an episode of Law and Order, and yet it features A-list stars delivering compelling performances. The real secret I want to know is how this film was able to attract this level of talent and get a theatrical release. 2.5/5
Secret In Their Eyes, Rated PG-13, is in theaters now.