Secret in their Eyes
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 22nd November 2015
Six years after the Argentinian film on which it is based won a well-deserved Oscar, Hollywood delivers its Los Angeles-based version of the crime thriller The Secret in their Eyes. With tent-pole names like Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, audiences will be expecting a lot, and indeed, with such strong source material, in theory nothing should have gone wrong.
But while writer-director Billy Ray has a few decent screenplays under his belt (Shattered Glass is a treat, and Captain Phillips won acclaim for Tom Hanks’ calm resilience in the face of Somali pirates), transposing the corruption of 1970s Argentina to the contemporary Californian justice system doesn’t quite convince.
Neither, gallingly, does the supposed attraction between Kidman, the allegedly hotshot DA, and Chiwitel Ejiofor’s dogged ex-FBI agent who unearths a murder case thirteen years after its prime suspect got away. Their flirty banter feels awkward and trivial in comparison to everything that Roberts delivers, her drawn, make-up-free face framed by mousey hair and utterly failing to mask the devastation of a shattered mother. (It may feel like the superstar has gone into semi-retirement, but Roberts certainly hasn’t lost her chops.)
Meanwhile, there’s a criminal to catch and the political machinations driven by an accent-dropping Alfred Molina and bland Kidman risk undermining the deeper, more powerful personal story which sees the obsessive Ejiofor determined to play against the rules for the sake of a greater good. When that story thread is being pulled, Secret in their Eyes is the thriller it wants to be.