Secret in Their Eyes
directed by Billy Ray
This film with an A-list cast was based on a Argentine novel which was previously made into an Oscar winning Argentine film. Unfortunately I suspect that a little was lost in translation. Every actor and actress in this version does a good job but they never quite make you completely forget that it's a movie. As thrillers go this film might also have been hamstrung by its PG-13 rating. There are a few subject matters and themes that actually are better served by an R rating. This film needed to be able to stretch out a little more than it did. So if you're someone who likes thrillers but doesn't care for unending stylized grotesque depictions of violence, don't worry. This film doesn't have them. I liked the film marginally more than I disliked it but again this isn't a film which will leave a mark on you or leave you wanting more. It definitely has its exciting moments. There are the requisite set piece scary moments. But despite the film's seeming focus on externalized evil it's really about the impact that evil has on its victims and survivors. I had no problem with that decision. I just thought the film could have done a better job of examining that internal damage. One character has tons of motivation but is strangely absent from huge swaths of the film while the other keeps everything so tightly wrapped that you don't know why they got up in the morning. This is a film with three leads. It starts thirteen years prior to the current day. It's just after 9-11. The national law enforcement/intelligence community is embarrassed, humiliated and angered about having missed the 9-11 conspiracy and attack. The word from the top is to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again. The means that law enforcement grunts like FBI agent Ray Kasten (Chiwitel Ejiofor), US Attorney's investigator Jessica Cobb (Julia Roberts) and local LA Detective Bumpy Willis (Dean Norris -Hank from Breaking Bad) are supposed to spend their every waking moment tracking down leads on Middle East inspired terrorism. 24-7. They aren't supposed to be wasting time surfing the net, sneaking out early to baseball games or writing blog posts.
And they DEFINITELY (cough *Ray this means you* cough) aren't supposed to be flirting with or making goo goo eyes at the leggy Harvard Law School grad new assistant DA Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman). Ray claims that he's not interested in Claire in that way because she's supposedly engaged. Ray can't help it that her fiance is on the east coast while Claire is in Los Angeles. Things just work out that way sometimes. However there are only so many times that you can eagerly offer to walk an attractive lady to her car or get caught staring at her in a pencil skirt before your co-workers (and obviously the target of your interest) know what you're thinking. And given that Ray's effective boss, the US District Attorney Morales (Alfred Molina) might have his own designs on Claire, Ray needs to be careful. Jessica playfully suggests he man up and go for it. But before Ray can stop lying to himself and make a move, tragedy strikes. The team has a radical mosque under surveillance. Local police discover a murder victim in a dumpster next to that mosque. So the feds are brought in on the investigation. It's a horrific crime. Maybe it has something to do with the mosque? The victim turns out to be Jessica's daughter. Ray views Jessica as something akin to a big sister and thus looked upon her daughter as his niece. So he takes this almost as hard as Jessica does. Ray starts to look around and ask people some questions. And sometimes he's not always nice about how he asks those hard questions. Getting on the bad side of an FBI agent with a vendetta is almost always a very bad idea.
After a while Ray settles on a shady character named Marzin (Joe Cole) as the prime suspect. But as Morales and some other FBI agents try to explain to Ray, things aren't that simple. This kicks off a thirteen year sojourn of lonely obsession, lost love and vengeance. You may think you'd want vengeance but how many of us could eagerly visit evil upon evil upon our enemies. On the other hand how many people would NOT want vengeance if one of their loved ones was brutalized and murdered. This could have been a better film. Nicole Kidman brings legs. Chiwitel Ejiofor brings earnestness and intensity. Julia Roberts is deliberately deglamorized and seemingly make-up free for most of the film. You wouldn't know that she and Kidman are the same age. Roberts looked old throughout the movie. Her role is quiet. You can miss some things if you're not looking for them. Unfortunately Kidman and Ejiofor don't have a lot of chemistry together. Kidman is ice to Ejiofor's fire. So you never get insight into what's really driving Kidman's character. She's mostly backdrop to Roberts and Ejiofor. All in all this was an ok movie if you have nothing better going on for just under two hours or are a fan of pencil skirts. But this is not something you need to go out of your way to watch. The cast was better than the direction and writing. I am considering trying to track down the Argentine film version or reading the novel. Secret in Their Eyes has multiple interesting storylines (possible office romance, utilitarian morality, horrible crime, twisted desire, law vs. justice) but ultimately they don't coalesce in a very satisfying way.