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Secret in Their Eyes Movie Review

Secret in Their Eyes: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art
Secret in Their Eyes is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + DVD combo.

Secret in Their Eyes (2015) movie poster Secret in Their Eyes

Theatrical Release: November 20, 2015 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Billy Ray / Writers: Billy Ray (screenplay); Juan José Campanella, Eduardo Sacheri (film El secreto de sus ojos)

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor (Ray Kasten), Nicole Kidman (Claire Sloan), Julia Roberts (Jess Cobb), Dean Norris (Bumpy Willis), Alfred Molina (Martin Morales), Joe Cole (Marzin, Beckwith), Michael Kelly (Reg Siefert), Zoe Graham (Carolyn Cobb)

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Accomplished screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips, Flightplan) occupies the director's chair for the third time on Secret in Their Eyes, an English language remake of the 2010 Foreign Language Film Oscar winner, Argentina's El secreto de sus ojos.

The film operates in two time periods: around Christmas in the present day and in 2002, when a shocking tragedy changes the lives of several of our principal characters. It jumps between these two timelines, sometimes without warning, making it necessary to pay attention to the male characters' hairlines and hair colors.

The English language remake "Secret in Their Eyes" stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as an LA FBI agent consumed with the murder of his partner's daughter and Nicole Kidman as his future DA supervisor.

In 2002, Los Angeles-based FBI investigator Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) works alongside Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts), his partner in banter. Both report to Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman),
a Harvard-educated supervisor whom Ray has eyes for. Things take a bleak turn when a teenaged victim of a vile rape and murder is immediately identified by Kasten as Jess' beloved daughter Carolyn (Boyhood's Zoe Graham).

Thirteen years later, the search for justice continues. Claire, now a district attorney, is reluctant to reopen the case and dredge up the horrors that the now haggard Jess has never gotten over. Meanwhile, Kasten has reason for all to take another look at the evidence. Having looked at thousands of images a night every night for the past twelve years (evidently facial recognition software does not exist for law enforcement in this world), Kasten, who now works as head of security for the New York Mets, believes he has found the young suspect who was never prosecuted for Carolyn's rape and homicide.

The reasons for that failure to prosecute are complicated, but involve some trepidation over the suspect's status as an FBI informant who is working to uncover a terrorist sleeper cell functioning out of a closely-watched LA mosque. Kasten's colleagues (led by Alfred Molina) vow not to let a murderer roam freely, but they are not nearly as convinced as Kasten is of the suspect's guilt and are hesitant to jeopardize their intensive, drawn-out counterterrorism efforts designed to prevent another 9/11 attack from befalling LA.

In the present day, a still grieving Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts) meets with a still-searching Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) at a bar frequented by L.A. Dodgers fans.

Secret in Their Eyes is an unremarkable procedural hindered by a perplexing villain, a not particularly interesting assortment of red tape, and a laughable handling of our lead characters.
Kasten and Claire don't just butt heads over protocol, but over an unrequited romance that the movie is determined to see through at length. Contemplation of revenge, retribution, and true justice obviously has some relevant value here, but the movie repeatedly tables those themes to give chase at Dodgers Stadium, to peruse a comic book the suspect created in his stripper girlfriend's home, and to preposterously and irreversibly rip open Claire's blouse with a not so firm touch of her arm.

You suspect the movie is leading to some twists and indeed it is, two of them. They're not the kind that suddenly cast everything that has transcended in a new light, though they do render a good part of the plot unnecessary. Nor do they tie everything together and make you understand why the movie did what it did, like weaving between those dual chronologies and presenting them in such a way that it's easy to mistake one time period for the other.

The filmmaker's fact-based first two directorial efforts -- the 2003 journalism drama Shattered Glass starring Hayden Christensen and the 2007 political thriller Breach -- have their admirers. Secret, however, is unlikely to join them, not when it is certain to be compared to a recent film esteemed enough to rank in the middle of IMDb's All-Time Top 250. The cast of this US remake includes two actresses who have held on to leading lady status longer than almost anyone but Meryl Streep. There's also Ejiofor, whose fewer years of clout were cemented by his lead role in 2013 Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave. Seeing the three of them and other respected actors like Molina, Dean Norris, and Michael Kelly assembled here in a movie unspooling just before Thanksgiving gives Secret the illusion of being an awards season contender. It is not and I'd be shocked if it wasn't a non-factor commercially as well.

Secret's box office prospects are tough to read, being that it is only the second film released by STX Entertainment, a studio founded last year by Robert Simonds, a veteran producer of Adam Sandler and Steve Martin comedies. The studio's debut, the Joel Edgerton thriller The Gift, performed quite well with critics and moviegoers when it opened in August. This one, however, faces much stiffer competition both between the megaplex event movies like Spectre and the final Hunger Games and actual adult-oriented Oscar contenders like Spotlight and Brooklyn that are popping up in metropolises now and sure to keep expanding. Unless your appreciation for the cast compels you to support their every project, there is no reason to see Secret over the better films playing in the same theater.

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Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Room • Trumbo • Brooklyn • Spectre • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 • Creed
Chiwetel Ejiofor: Dirty Pretty Things • Salt • Amistad • Kinky Boots | Julia Roberts: August: Osage County • Eat Pray Love
Nicole Kidman: Strangerland • The Paperboy • The Railway Man • Paddington • Margot at the Wedding
Dean Norris: Men, Women & Children • Sons of Liberty • The Counselor • Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season | Zoe Graham: Boyhood
2015 Mysteries: Every Secret Thing • Dark Places
Screenplay by Billy Ray: The Hunger Games • Captain Phillips • Flightplan

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Reviewed November 20, 2015.

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