In 2010, Argentina’s Juan Jose Campanella won a much-deserved Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for Secret in Their Eyes. It didn’t take long for producer Mark Johnson to snap up the English-language remake rights. Writer-director Billy Ray was hired to take on the material and give it a new spin that would appeal to more of a mass audience without compromising the original, though it’s still a story about revenge.
As I say in my video review (click the link above), what Ray has nicely crafted is a smart genre film, a mystery thriller that lacks some of the grace of the Argentine version but more than makes up for it as a gripping, suspenseful, character-driven drama. Of course, casting doesn’t hurt — and Ray has collected a phenomenal group of stars to make up the key triangle his script revolves around. He also has condensed the time between the two distinct periods in which the film takes place. It was 25 years in the original, but this one jumps from 2002 to 2015. Ray specifically chose the period just following 9/11 for the events that set the action in motion, and 2015 for the continuation.
And what a cast. Julia Roberts, in a role originally written for a man, plays Jess Cobb, a sharp and dedicated DA investigator who is teamed — and tight as thieves — with FBI Investigator Ray Kasten (perfectly played by Chiwetel Ejiofor). Along with another rising star, Deputy District Attorney Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman), they are serving an anti-terrorism task force in Los Angeles. The relationship between the latter two is quite different as there is clearly something more than a professional regard for each other that comes through in both time periods.
That is part of the puzzle as the film shifts back and forth, slowly unveiling key pieces of
the plot, which is set in motion when Jess and Ray — responding to a routine murder scene — discover that the victim is none other than Jess’ daughter. This sets Jess into an emotional tailspin, especially when the prime suspect turns out to be a protected federal witness who is set free. But still, after 13 years, Ray cannot let go of this cold case and tries to convince Claire, who’s now a political power player, to reopen the investigation. This leads to lots of complications — some personal, some not — and the expected twists and turns you often see in this genre. As Jess is still emotionally stunted by the loss, this renewal of all those memories triggers some intense scenes Roberts brings off with a quiet and forceful confidence.
I will go no further in plot description except to say one major revelation is still the same as the original but packs a powerful punch even for those who think they know what’s coming. Director Ray manages to make it all fresh and compelling — no easy task since this genre of storytelling has been more at home on the small screen of late than in movies. Both Oscar-winning stars Roberts and Kidman are superb here. Kidman really gets it going in a riveting interrogation scene in which she all but verbally obliterates her suspect. However, both stars are really supporting the excellent Ejiofor, who drives the narrative in every way.
The fine supporting cast includes Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris, House Of Cards‘ Michael Kelly, Alfred Molina and Joe Cole, the latter actually playing two roles. Cinematography by Danny Moder (Roberts’ husband) is breathtakingly good, giving Angelenos a view of their city that recalls the finest elements of film noir. A sequence set at Dodger Stadium is filmmaking at its best, especially a remarkable helicopter aerial descent into the ballpark. In addition to Johnson, Matt Jackson serves as producer. New distributor STX Entertainment opens Secret in Their Eyes today as its second release following the decent box office success of August opener The Gift, another midrange thriller.
Do you plan to see Secret in Their Eyes? Let us know what you think.