Secret in Their Eyes is latest of many Hollywood remakes of a foreign thriller. In this case, a close-knit team of investigators working anti-terror in 2002 LA find their world ripped apart when they are called to a murder scene and discover that the victim is the daughter of one of their own.
That one, Jess — played with mingled devastation, resignation and venom by Julia Roberts — is left utterly destroyed, and the team crumbles around her. Fellow investigators Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Bumpy (Dean Norris) and their favorite DA contact, Claire (Nicole Kidman) find themselves at a loss to help their friend and blocked in what attempts they can make to do so.
Fast-forward 13 years. Jess has moved out to the country, to the quiet, but is still working away. Claire’s taken the top job as the new DA. Bumpy’s on desk duty. Ray is well removed, managing security for the Mets, but he’s never left the case behind. Rather, it’s become an obsessive quest for him, and when, after years of daily searching he finally locates the clue he thinks he needs to bring the killer down, he heads back to LA and his old team.
What follows is a game of cat and mouse that slowly unravels details about the past and present. Once lit, the fuse burns throughout the film as Ray obsessively chases the truth, and all of his old friends can only follow in his wake. Secret in Their Eyes is a thriller and a mystery, that delivers more than a few surprises, but it’s also a meditation on the nature of crime, justice, patriotism, duty and revenge.
If the film has this kind of punch even ripped from its original form and language, the Argentinian original must be quite something. The remake gets a boost from a strong story on which to build and the kind of cast that most directors can only dream of to lift the narrative up and really sell it. Ejiofor does determination bordering on obsession as well as anyone, it’s easy to believe that this case is the one that eats at his soul and ultimately, drove him away from the life of a badge. Nicole Kidman’s screen time is rather limited, but she shows a lot of versatility as the hot and cold Claire. At turns she seems firmly on the side of justice by the books, at others she’s besotted and still others she’s alight with angry fire. Dean Norris steals some scenes as Bumpy, bringing the same charming bravado that made his Hank a favorite on Breaking Bad.
Like many thrillers, Secret in Their Eyes, is probably not a film that will compel viewers past the first watch, but you could do far worse for a night at the movies than to go along for a ride with a talented cast in an affecting drama. Secret in Their Eyes opens everywhere November 20.