The Argentinean thriller “The Secret in their Eyes” was a gripping crime thriller bolstered by superb filmmaking and a melancholic love story told against the backdrop of Argentina’s “Dirty War.” It was by no means a great movie but its stirring performances lent it a modicum of emotional heft—enough to allow it to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2009. The American remake on the other hand, is a prime example of why American filmmakers, with a few notable exceptions, shouldn’t bother with remaking international films. It’s a flat-out atrocity that squanders the talent of three terrific actors with lifeless direction, amateur-hour cinematography and an incoherent screenplay.
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Julia Roberts play Ray and Jess, Los Angeles-based FBI agents tasked with surveilling a local mosque whose members have been suspected of terrorist activity. They work with Claire, a newly-appointed District Attorney who Ray takes an immediate romantic interest in. When a body is found in a dumpster at the back of the mosque, Ray is shocked to learn that the dead women is Jess’ teenage daughter. Although they are able to apprehend the murderer/rapist rather quickly, government bureaucracy comes into play when they realize that the killer is the key informant in a counter-terrorism case that’s very important to their bosses (Alfred Molina).
Like the film it’s based on, “Secret in their Eyes” attempts to weave romance, suspense, thrills and revenge into a narrative that takes place over two time periods. In this case, it’s post- 9/11 2002 and present day 2015. But instead of telling a linear story, writer-director Billy Ray darts back and forth between the time periods in an attempt to give the story a sense of urgency. Unfortunately, the switching between time periods is handled with the elegance of a dumpster crashing down a cliff. It’s devoid of sense, suspense or momentum.
The result of this is a dull and flaccidly-paced romantic thriller that fails at being both romantic and thrilling. Particularly disappointing are the performances which are all flat. Kidman is the one who suffers the worst. Even the post-9/11 references that Ray incorporates into the screenplay in an attempt to ape the political backdrop of the Argentinean original are at best shoddy. Spending any more time writing about this film would be a waste. This is an embarrassing failure and career low for every talent involved. Simply thinking about it puts me to sleep.
SECRET IN THEIR EYES
Director: Billy Ray
Screenwriter: Billy Ray
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Dean Norris, Michael Kelly
Producer: Matt Jackson, Mark Johnson
Editor: Jim Page
Cinematographer: Daniel Moder
Music: Emilio Kauderer
Production Design: Nelson Coates
Running time: 111 minutes
Companies: STX Entertainment
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references)
SECRET IN THEIR EYES is now playing in wide release in cinemas across Miami and Fort Lauderdale. For showtimes, click here.