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Secret in Their Eyes – Movie Review

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Secret in Their Eyes – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

It’s always a curious thing that when a book is adapted for the screen again, American filmmakers will use the original source material as the inspiration and ignore the other film adaptation, which is a smart decision. However, when foreign films inspire an English-language version, the director will mostly make a shot-for-shot remake and not look at the original book. This holds particularly true of Secret in Their Eyes, which makes absolutely no mention of Eduardo Sacheri’s novel in the credits. Director/writer Billy Ray takes Juan Jose Campanella’s Oscar-winning film and turns it into a post-9/11 thriller and the result is an effective and decent take on the material.

Like the Argentinean film, this version jumps back and forth between the past and present to provide context and stitch together the mystery. Billy Ray mainly shifts the location to California shortly after September 11th led to higher paranoia and suspicion. This fuels the character arc of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Ray and his desire to avenge the murder of his fellow cop’s daughter. The mystery is an engrossing one and the filmmakers allow him to make mistakes in trying to solve the homicide case. There are the usual corrupt policemen and higher officials prevalent in this genre, but it all fits into the film’s tight narrative.

The stand-out sequence in Campanella’s film is a key arrest made at a football stadium. Billy Ray moves the scene to a baseball game, but makes it no less thrilling. Even if one’s knowledge of the Argentinean version takes a bit of the tension out of it, the direction is still well handled. The longer Secret in Their Eyes plays, the more Billy Ray picks and chooses what to keep and change in his movie and to a viewer familiar with the earlier film, it becomes an interesting exercise in seeing whether these help or harm the movie. More often than not, Billy Ray handles the remake process properly, though some decisions obviously come from the change in cultural standards.

A strong ensemble has been chosen for this film, with Chiwetel Ejiofor providing a compelling lead. Julia Roberts is certain to gain the most attention as the grieve-stricken Jess and she succeeds in hiding a lot of her usual acting ticks. She manages to disappear into the role quite effectively, a compliment not normally said about Roberts. Nicole Kidman has to play cold, while also being a romantic interest for Ejiofor and she is believable. Dean Norris, Alfred Molina and Michael Kelly fill out the other roles without stealing the spotlight from the leads, while still leaving an impression. There’s a reason those three have carved out strong careers as character actors.

For anybody who has already seen the Argentinean Secret in Their Eyes, the most that will be gained from this version is seeing what has been changed for the English-speaking market. It’s the usual case of remaking a foreign film for the benefit of those who don’t like reading subtitles. However, Billy Ray thankfully doesn’t dumb down the material and brings some of his own directorial process to this film. It is still an effective police procedural with a solid mystery at its center and very good performances from the entire cast. The Ring and Let Me In still stand as the strongest recent Hollywood redoes of foreign films, but Secret in Their Eyes is more than decent.

Stefan Ellison

The Scene