Walking up to the theater for Billy Ray's Secret in Their Eyes, I admit I was mistakenly anticipating something of a melodramatic snooze fest. What I found instead, however, was a heartbreaking film full of stunning performances, bringing to life a story of insurmountable loss. Far from the typical cop drama I had been expecting, a genre seemingly plagued by Law & Order procedure, this film was not politically or socially exploitative whatsoever. Instead its sole focus was on the human tragedy of loss, what it does to those left behind, and how justice is only served by coming to terms with this permanent change.
The film had an incredible intensity to it and benefited from the real gravitas of Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance. His character Ray is the driving force behind the majority of the film's plot and, while I won't spoil anything, his reaction to the traumatic event that initiates the plot is nothing short of profound. Through his eyes we see the terror and pain of a man caught between his ideals and his passion, creating a truly mesmerizing internal conflict. From start to finish, Ray's momentum picks up and changes in form, but it never wavers. Through the development of the film's story, he can be likened to the tragic heroes of Greek mythology, perhaps as Theseus in a labyrinth of deception and chaos. Let me be clear, Ejiofor's performance, if nothing else, is reason enough to see this movie.
While Secret in Their Eyes does have its flaws, namely uneven pacing and a lack of romance, it stays true to the story it strives to tell. This is not the vigilante action movie Die Hard fans are looking for, but instead a tragedy with elements of a psychological thriller and the mystery of an espionage flick.
Looking back, I feel like I need to see the film again to pick up on all of its nuances and cultural commentary. While I was viewing it originally, I began to see subtext relating to justice, the national security apparatus, terrorism and what it means to seek retribution, both as an individual and as a nation. Perhaps the most profound thing about this movie is: while our characters are seeking their own justice, the powers that be are also seeking their own form of it. These two desires clash at some point, but I think the overarching meaning here is that justice is not greater conflict, as is sought by both parties. Instead, justice is acceptance. Perhaps a nod to the ideals of major philosophers who pushed for the betterment of the world (like Descartes, Aquinas, Pain, Hall, Nietzsche, and Watts).
One would not expect to find natural law in a movie about man's law, unless of course you look for it. Whatever your ultimate conclusion of this film, it does something many today do not. It makes you think.