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Review: Secret in their Eyes

Secret in their Eyes is the rare remake that has to change much of the detail to contemporize it. Therefore, instead of placement during Argentina’s dirty war, the conflict at its centre is post-9/11 politics, and a character’s obsession with futbol becomes a passion for baseball, particularly the Dodgers, in this slice of L.A. Noir. Oh, and Julia Roberts’s character was originally played by a man and had a different connection to the story. And there are some other subtle but extremely important changes that seek to transform Secret in their Eyes into something more powerful or transcendent than its Argentine original, but it cannot transcrend two small word that threaten to undermine the entire exercise in remaking: genre film.

The fault cannot be found in its stellar cast, including Nicole Kidman and as its nominal lead, Chiwetel Ejiofor. The trouble is that both actors have been much better in previous films, and neither one seems particularly comfortable playing the role of a symbol of American Justice. Kidman in particular struggles with her initial role as a wide-eyed ingenue in 2002, but a wizened prosecutor in 2015, (perhaps Kidman could have pulled off this role in that year, but that’s a matter of speculation). And Ejiofor seems incorrect for the role of moral beacon, which is because still waters run incredibly deep within the actor, which is why aside from Solomon Northrup, he has yet to find a role in an American film that has fully utilized his talents and ability. Ejiofor is an MVP, but here feels like a singles hitter.

The story is that in 2002, in the height of terrorism threat, (there is discussion of how the next attack could be in Los Angeles), the L.A. branch of FBI Special Agent Ray Kaster (Ejiofor) working in conjunction with a team of DA in training Claire Sloan (Kidman), Jess Cobb, (Julia Roberts, who perhaps comes off the best in the film), the snivelling Reg Siefert, (Michael Kelly, who has done this sort of role before), Bumpy Willis, (Dean Norris, ditto), and as a special treat, Alfred Molina as suspect DA Martin Morales, simultaneously great, but also hardening back to Law and Order: Los Angeles, not a good sign. The focus is on preventing another attack and the 2002 scenes are particularly arresting as a time capsule, (the clunky cell phones and  desktop computers take us right back to the time), but there is an unnecessarily complicated twist about a crime that affects the entire team, (unnecessarily complicated because the story suggests the possibility of an inside job which sadly does not come to fruition).

Look, it is obvious that writer and director Billy Ray attempted to put a spin on the original through the changing of certain details, and the movie works best if there is no familiarity with the original movie as well as if an audience member were to see the film cold. The work by Julia Roberts is stellar and her husband Danny Moder does a fine job as a cinematographer, including a breathtaking sequence that plays out in cavernous and creaky Dodger Stadium that somehow captures the essence of the 2002 sport. But the present day scenes just do not measure up, as Ejiofor is the only character that seems to have aged effectively, and even then, a streak of white hair does not have the same effect as “weathering”. The film has moments of becoming its own entity, but the transition is clunky and often feels like it does not find its own…ahem…vision. The dreaded label of genre film unfairly hangs around the film.

[star v=25]