Movie review: Star power can’t save ‘Secret in Their Eyes’
–Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Chiwetel Ejiofor –all of whom have Academy Award nominations– form a powerful trio of actors. When you see them headlining a film, you know it’s going to be a powerful collaboration.
While all of them give decent performances in “Secret in Their Eyes,” that can’t save the film, which is a slog to get through. It wants to be a powerful story of guilt, determination, friendship and justice, but all those things wash away with an ending that will leave you scratching your head.
Writer/director Billy Ray –who has turned out some great stories like “Shattered Glass,” “Flight Plan” and “Captain Phillips”– can’t quite execute this adaptation of an Argentinian film that won Best Foreign Film in 2009. Instead, what we get is great actors, and some good moments, overcome by a confusing, depressing story with an abrupt ending.
The film spans two time periods. In the present, Ray (Ejiofor) is a former FBI Agent turned head of security for the Mets who is driven to solve a 13-year-old homicide. The suspect disappeared, and Ray spends each night combing through the national database of mug shots. When he finds a face that matches, he gets on a plane for Los Angeles.
There he reunites with Claire (Kidman) — once a young prosecutor who’s now the District Attorney for Los Angeles — and Jess (Roberts), now the chief investigator for the DA’s office. Both have mixed feelings seeing Ray return, especially when he wants to open an old case, and re-open old wounds.
Thirteen years earlier, Ray was assigned to the DA’s office in Los Angeles to help track potential terrorists. There he partnered with Jess and befriended Jess’s daughter. He also became smitten with Claire, who was engaged at the time.
When Jess’s daughter was found murdered, it set all three on a dangerous path. Ray became doggedly driven to find the killer, Jess was shaken to her core and Claire got caught between her career and her friends. The failed investigation altered the course of their careers and lives.
Now, Ray wants to set that right but might cause more collateral damage along the way.
This isn’t an easy movie to watch. Ray, as writer and director, has a vision for telling this story. In the early going, the back-and-forth looks at the timeline help build these characters and tell the story. And he gets plenty of strong performances, especially from Ejiofor, who is the focal point of the film. It’s also a story that has you guessing as to where it’s going for most of its run, which works well.
But it’s the final act of the film that really breaks down the narrative for me. It feels rushed in spots, then confused and dark in other spots. There is no real resolution and the film abruptly ends. This can feel like a style complaint that a film doesn’t have resolution, and I’m not arguing that all films need to be wrapped up neatly. My complaint here is more that it doesn’t feel like these story pieces end up going anywhere, which makes the film a frustrating watch. What were we to take away from this story? I honestly had no idea after watching, which points to a failure in its construction and execution.
There was a lot of potential to make something powerful here. The film assembled a great cast — which included supporting work from Alfred Molina, Dean Norris and Michael Kelly, among others. But all that seems squandered by a film that starts out proposing a lofty narrative exploration and seems to wander off track as it comes in for a conclusion.
Ray is a talented storyteller and filmmaker who’s written some interesting films, but “Secret in Their Eyes” is a miss.
“Secret in Their Eyes” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references.
Two stars out of four.