Secret in Their Eyes stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Ray, an FBI investigator who discovers the body of a colleague’s (Julia Roberts) daughter. Along with District Attorney Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman), Ray hunts down the girl’s killer, but he soon discovers that the crime leads to higher places in his office. The movie tells its story in the present day and with scenes taking place 12 years ago, and is more a study of Ray’s obsession with the case and his love of the District Attorney than anything else.
Secret in Their Eyes is based on the 2009 Argentine film of the same name (which I haven’t seen), which was adapted from the 2005 novel by Eduardo Sacheri. The 2009 original won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and this underwhelming remake shows snippets of what it could have been, had the filmmakers not settled on a dulled-down PG-13 version. The first half of the movie is a slog, with Ray’s uninspiring crush on Kidman’s Attorney taking centre stage. Roberts puts in a dedicated performance, but we don’t get to see this until we reach the final stages of the film. Instead, director/writer Billy Ray tries to spin a romance out of a narrative that clearly doesn’t need one, and it takes until at least the 60 minute mark for the movie to kick off.
Thanks to a creepy albeit brief performance from Joe Cole, Secret in Their Eyes is at its suspenseful best when he shares the screen. An English actor, he has adopted a strong Eurasian accent for his role, and his few scenes in the movie are some of the best. Billy Ray wrote the script to the fantastic Captain Phillips, so he obviously knows how to create compelling drama and build up the tension, but none of that is on show here. Instead, we get a lukewarm romance, when it feels like Ray should have dropped the sentimentality and instead focus on its interesting story and gritty atmosphere.
Kidman is as elegant as ever, although her pristine looks seem a little out of place in a movie like this. Ejiofor gives a committed performace, but the star of the show should have been Julia Roberts, if only Billy Ray had given her a hell of a lot more to do. Secrets in Their Eyes‘ most captivating scenes are towards the climax, and this is where Roberts finally starts to feel like part of the film.
Secrets in Their Eyes isn’t a bad movie, it’s just an incredibly lacklustre one. American remakes are always going to be treated with cautiousness, and this one will get dumped into the ever-growing list of “Why did this even get made?” movies.