By Chaz Lipp
The 2005 novel El secreto de sus Ojos (by Juan Jose Campanella and Eduardo Sacheri) has spawned two movie adaptations. The first won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (2009). The U.S. version, Secret In Their Eyes, quickly faded from theaters after a November, 2015 release. The presence of Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, The Martian), Nicole Kidman, and Julia Roberts couldn’t drum up any serious moviegoer interest. Now it’s out on Blu-ray and hoping for a second lease on commercial life.
It’s a crime thriller that de-emphasizes thrills in favor of dour drama. Writer-director Billy Ray yanks us back and for between two time periods, separated by 13 years. Rather than enhance tension within the murder mystery, it only adds confusion. Perhaps a more straightforward narrative structure would’ve better served the story of grief-stricken DA investigator Jess (Roberts). Called out to an L.A. mosque with her partner Ray (Ejiofor) to examine the scene of a murder, Jess realizes with horror that the victim is her own daughter, Caroline (Zoe Graham). Roberts delivers a wrenching performance, but the movie itself never matches her level of passion.
Jess and Ray are close enough personally that Caroline’s last known communication attempt prior to her death was with Ray. Since he didn’t return her call (they were supposed to meet to plan Jess’ birthday party), Ray blames himself. He spends 13 years trying to solve the crime, at the expense of his career (leaving the FBI for the private sector). District Attorney Claire (Kidman) is Ray’s longstanding crush, but otherwise she factors into the story at an unsatisfactory level.
Secret In Their Eyes is reminiscent of AMC’s excellent police procedural The Killing, both in general atmosphere as well as the platonic relationship between its primary male and female characters. Unfortunately, director Ray doesn’t get deep enough into these characters’ personal turmoil to make Secret as compelling (or moving) as it could’ve been.
The Blu-ray contains a director and producer commentary track and a couple of very short “featurettes.” While the featurettes are little more than ads for the movie, one focuses on Julia Roberts and her gut-wrenching performance. Even though it’s only a few minutes long, fans of the actress won’t want to miss it.
Secret In Their Eyes Images: Universal Studios