An Unnecessary Effort: A Review of ‘Secret In Their Eyes’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - November 19, 2015
An Unnecessary Effort: A Review of ‘Secret In Their Eyes’

Remakes are always such a tricky beast and often it ends up that they shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

Secret In Their Eyes takes the 2009 Academy Award winner from its Argentinean settings and drops it into Los Angeles in the post 9/11 landscape and it loses a little bit of the raw human drama from the original as with all these familiar beautiful people never quite rings true.

We meet a tight knit team of FBI investigators in Los Angeles at the height of the war on terror in the landscape post 9/11 as they are constantly on edge with the mandate to find out what the next terror attack could be.  Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Jess (Julia Roberts) and their District Attorney liaison Claire (Nicole Kidman) are inseparable until the day that changes everything when they discover Jess’ teenage daughter murdered and left for dead in dumpster.  Now 13 years later after endlessly obsessing about this case, Ray thinks that he has found a lead to finally bring this murderer to justice.  However closure is never easy and as the past and the present collide, the lines between justice and revenge get very blurry as all three are forced to look themselves in the mirror and wonder how far they would go to right something that they knew was wrong.


It’s a running joke in film circles, whenever something wins the Academy Award for best foreign language you can’t help but wonder how long it will take for the Hollywood machine to mess it all up.  While Secret In Their Eyes is far from a bad movie, it lacks any of the genuine raw power that came out of the first film and the political strife and situations in Argentina in the first film don’t quite play exactly the same as they would in Los Angeles and a drama that was filled with political and personal emotion never quite hits the same levels as it feels procedural and played out.

secretintheireyes1Writer/director Billy Ray adapts the original Spanish screenplay for its updated settings and while he hits a lot of the beats from the original film that he is supposed to, it all plays like more of an homage then it does a remake.  It’s stylishly bang on and is never boring to look at, but the passion of it is gone and we don’t get all that invested in any of the characters.  It never quite adds up and feels like an “Extra Special” episode of Law & Order rather than a tale of overwhelming human drama and emotion in the face of crisis and tragedy. The parallel time structure of the movie plays fine, but when the only leading character who looks any different after 13 years is Julia Roberts, it just takes us out of any kind of genuine place where we will buy into the story and the actors never really have a chance to let us engage with the material that they are forced to selling us.

Julia Roberts is really the only one who is working her ass off here as she gives us layers upon layers of grief which eventual morph into revenge and even apathy.  Roberts puts in the effort to play a woman whose life is basically destroyed on this day that her daughter dies and it makes for one of her better dramatic performances.  Both Ejiofor and Kidman can deliver strong performances in their sleep…and they just may have here as they have terrible chemistry together and Ejiofor never really works at all and everything that plays out on his end of the story feels awkward and kind of forced.  Sure he’s likable, but we never really give a damn about any of these characters and that is kind of why it fails.  The likes of Dean Norris, Michael Kelly and Alfred Molina round it all out, but with the exception of Roberts, no one really gets out of first gear on this for meaningful and legitimate character development.

It’s not an outright failure, but Secret In Their Eyes is kind of proof positive that not all foreign language movies should or even need to get remade.  Watch the original for a much better experience.

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David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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