Secret In Their Eyes
In a weekend that saw a massively popular franchise resolved in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, the less flashy, more sinister melodrama The Secret in Their Eyes released to a significantly smaller audience, bowing to $6 million in comparison to Mockingjay - Part 2's $102 million. Even so, the smaller-scale film featuring Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor and Oscar winners Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, the Billy Ray-directed (who, coincidentally, directed The Hunger Games’ first bow in 2012) crime mystery is a welcome alternative to those who’d rather hold off on the blockbuster this weekend.
Much like its blockbuster counterpart, Secret is another adaptation, although this film’s source material is 2009’s El Secreto De Sus Ojos,” which was that year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. With fundamental plot and detail changes between the two movies, it’s more appropriate to call the 2015 version a re-imagining than a remake.
Even so, Secret remains as chilling as its Argentine cousin. Los Angeles DA investigator Ray Kasten (Ejiofor) spends thirteen years clicking through a database of mugshots to find a murderer who has taken the life of the young Carolyn Cobb (Zoe Graham), the daughter of colleague Jess (Roberts) – a case dating back to 2002. When he finally discovers a lead late one night, he teams with the apple of his eye Claire (Kidman) to reopen the decade-old case. Also joining the crew is “Bumpy” Willis (Dean Norris, of Breaking Bad fame) and Reg Siefert (Michael Kelly, House of Cards), and the heavily distraught, grief-stricken Jess is left alone, who appears withered and void of even a modicum of happiness.
With the thirteen years separating the murder of Carolyn with the reopening of her murder case, Secret is ripe for nonlinear storytelling, which the writers have taken full advantage of by jumping between past and present whenever dramatically appropriate. We begin with the reunion of Ray and Claire in her new office as district attorney, when he proposes to reopen the Carolyn Cobb murder case. The scene, which is equal parts plot advancement and subtle fliration (in spite of Carolyn being a married woman), then segways into Ray and Claire meeting for the first time, thirteen years ago (Claire a freshly engaged woman then), with similar flirtatiousness. It this constant shifting between past and present that makes Secret deliberately unsteady and unsettling, adequately mirroring Ray’s implied anxiety as he weaves his way through narrow leads and tiny clues, none of which seem to provide a firm answer.
Even with all of the support of his colleagues behind him, Ray gets some pushback from boss Martin Morales (Alfred Molina), who is more than unhappy with his terrorist investigator chasing an already-shut and fruitless murder case. What’s more, the downtrodden Jess continues losing her mind year by year, coming to a head as she takes the law in her own hands – something that has shocking consequences.
Secret features a trove of intriguing, emotional performances that make the film perfect for character analysis and case studies, particularly when it comes to Roberts, who makes a harrowing turn as a mother who found her dead daughter at the bottom of a parking garage dumpster. It’s not out of the ordinary for Roberts to deliver an Oscar-caliber performance; the same applies to Ejiofor and Kidman, who couple their tense emotions surrounding the murder case with a forbidden interest in one another.
Granted, the entire film isn’t exactly Best Picture caliber; a staunch focus on case details and semantics drags down some of the movie’s middle, making its bookends easily the higher points. But just as Jess’ emotions are wrung, and Ray and Claire’s resolve tested, the viewer experiences all the same in this satisfying popcorn-muncher of a crime thriller that could very well earn its leading and supporting cast some Oscar attention.
Written by Billy Ray (screenplay) and Juan Jose Campanella (original movie).
Directed by Billy Ray.
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, and Julia Roberts.