Secret in Their Eyes, a remake of the 2009 Oscar-winning Argentinian film El secreto de sus ojos, is an old-school, taut, and endlessly involving thriller. The suspense-drama isn’t much in style these days, but this film is a swift reminder that the genre can still bring the heat. As adapted and directed by Billy Ray, who’s been on quite a roll since 2007’s Breach, Secret in Their Eyes features a stellar cast, twists and turns that add up, and a slow burn atmosphere that demands and retains attention.
Alternating between early 2002 and present day Los Angeles, the story concerns a trio of investigators – Ray (Ejiofor), Jess (Roberts), and Claire (Kidman) – and the event that changed their lives and careers: the rape and murder of Jess’s daughter, Carolyn (Zoe Graham). Over thirteen years, Ray has devoted his life to proving his prime suspect is responsible for the crime. The conflict from the beginning: his suspect is a key informant for the police department in the months after 9/11 during their effort to take down sleeper terrorist cells. With resistance and misdirection at every turn, Ray learns a stunning secret in his quest to close the case once and for all.
Writer/director Billy Ray, whose recent screenplay credits include Captain Phillips, The Hunger Games, State of Play, and Flightplan, has become a go-to source for story-driven suspense. He rarely missteps in the ways that so many American remakes do. Preserving the core fragments of the original film, Ray has massaged them into a tense post-9/11 narrative. The cinematography by Roberts’s husband, Daniel Moder, is foreboding and highlighted by a doozy of a tracking shot into Dodger Stadium. While the editing is shaky in its handling of the timeline (salt-and-pepper-haired Ejiofor equals present day), Secret in Their Eyes succeeds by making the completed puzzle worthy of the pieces we are presented with. The final sequence is truly haunting.
The cast is uniformly outstanding, led by a refreshingly intense turn by a decidedly un-glamorous Julia Roberts. Convincingly emotional and distraught, Roberts shines as the broken and determined mother on a quest to find her daughter’s killer. Ejiofor and Kidman are also superb in darker, more subdued roles. With a tight, well-executed story that delivers the sum of its parts, Secret in Their Eyes is a worthy remake and welcome entry to a genre that doesn’t get enough love these days.
Studio: STX Entertainment
Length: 111 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references.
Theatrical Release: November 20, 2015
Directed by: Billy Ray
Written by: Billy Ray. Based upon the film “El secreto de sus ojos” written by Juan José Campanella & Eduardo Sacheri.
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Alfred Molina