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Secret in Their Eyes (2015)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Don't Cry For Them, Argentina"
2 stars

On paper, "Secret in Their Eyes" seems to have a lot going for it. It is based on a 2009 Argentinian film that won a number of international prizes, including the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film. It was directed by Billy Ray, whose previous efforts have included the solid and fascinating dramas "Shattered Glass" and "Breach." Most significantly, at least from a marketing perspective, the lead roles have been filled with two Oscar-winning superstars in Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman and a celebrated Oscar-nominated actor in Chiwetel Ejiofor. The only thing that it doesn't have, alas, is a compelling argument for its existence. It isn't so much a bad movie--though it certainly isn't very good--as it is a dull one and while it moves along efficiently enough, it never quite manages to come to life.

Relocated to Los Angeles, the film follows a trio of investigators pursuing a case that strikes perilously close to home to them both in 2002, when it originally occurred, and in 2015, when it unexpectedly returns into their lives. In 2002, Ray (Ejiofor) and Jess (Roberts) are part of a counter-intelligence task force working with the district attorney (Alfred Molina) in the immediate wake of 9/11 and Claire (Kidman) is a newly recruited attorney in the office. One day, Ray and Jess get a report of the discovery of the body of a young woman who was brutally raped, murdered and tossed in a garbage bin near a mosque that they have under surveillance and when they arrive, they are horrified to discover that it is Jess' daughter, Carolyn (Zoe Graham). Outraged, Ray, along with fellow task force member Bumpy (Dean Norris) begin to investigate the crime on their own and eventually latch on to a likely suspect in Marzin (Joe Cole), a young member of the mosque. Alas, even though Marzin essentially confesses to the crime, the D.A. decides to let him go on the basis that he is more important running free as a source of information about a possible terrorist attack than behind bars as a rapist and murderer. After his release, Marzin promptly disappears and an outraged Ray, upset that he couldn't give justice to the shattered Jess, quits the force.

However, he doesn't quit the case and over the next 13 years, he obsessively searches records in the hopes of picking up Marzin's trail and one day, it seems that he has stumbled across his man at long last amid photos of recent parolees. Sure, the guy is using a different name and the looks are slightly off but the other particulars seems to match up and besides, he just has a feeling that this is the guy. With this new information, he returns to Los Angeles to bring the new information that he has discovered to Claire, who is now District Attorney, and Jess, who is now a chief investigator. Claire doesn't see much to build a case on--the new information is little more than a hunch from someone who hasn't worked in the department for years--and while Jess is more interested, she would prefer to maybe not put it through official channels. Determined to bring Marzin to justice once and for all, Ray begins tracking him down again and as a result of this pursuit, a number of long-buried secrets are uncovered with unexpected reverberations for everyone involved.

For those who have seen the original "Secret in Their Eyes," Ray's adaptation is not radically different for the most part--most of the big dramatic beats are there including the shocking finale that poleaxed some viewers while leaving others scratching their heads. That, in a nutshell, is the biggest problem with the film--it sticks so resolutely to the twists and turns of the original as to render the new version superfluous. Unfortunately, this is one of those narratives that does not really stand up to intense scrutiny on a second viewing and while it is told in a slick enough manner, especially in the way that it toggles the two time periods, that alone isn't enough to distract from the monotony. There is one potentially interesting new angle--America's post 9/11 paranoia and the way that people in power were willing to trample on most basic notions of justice in the name of "freedom"--but once Ray introduces this element, he then frustratingly abandons it for the most part for a story that, frankly, contains all of the trappings of a Lifetime movie.

Make that a Lifetime movie that has been cast way above its pay grade to boot. The three leads are all excellent actors, of course, but it is odd to see them all marking time in roles what they are all capable of doing. None of their performances are especially bad--though none do a particularly good job of demonstrating the passage of time between the 2002 scenes and the 2015 scenes (they always seem either too young or too old depending on the period)--but they all just seem to be going through the motions without bringing anything to the characters that might elevate the material into something other than a standard procedural. This seems odd because each character is supposed to be driven by some great passion--Jess' determination to find justice for her daughter, Claire's ambition to rise through the ranks in the DA's office and Ray's obsession to avenge Jess' loss and his unrequited love for Claire--but it never comes through. The three all seem at some odd remove from one another--even though they are supposed to be a close-knit trio further brought together by tragic events, they always seem as if they just met moments before the cameras began rolling.

"Secret in Their Eyes" is not a particularly awful movie by any means but it is awfully unnecessary for the most part. If you have seen the original, it doesn't add much of anything new or interesting to the proceedings and if you haven't, there isn't anything about it that should compel you to see it in lieu of its predecessor other than a fear of subtitles. It is too bad because a lot of talented people have been brought together here and to see their efforts go into something so utterly mediocre is somehow actually worse than if they had resulted in an all-out disaster--at least that might have been interesting in a train wreck kind of way. By comparison, "Secret in Their Eyes" is a film about long-standing obsession that you will be hard-pressed to remember in any great detail ten minutes after watching it.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28684&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/20/15 10:29:47
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USA
  20-Nov-2015 (PG-13)
  DVD: 23-Feb-2016

UK
  N/A

Australia
  20-Nov-2015
  DVD: 23-Feb-2016


Directed by
  Billy Ray

Written by
  Billy Ray

Cast
  Nicole Kidman
  Chiwetel Ejiofor
  Julia Roberts
  Michael Kelly
  Dean Norris
  Zoe Graham



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