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Secret in their Eyes a tale that didn’t need retelling: review

Secret in Their Eyes

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts. Directed by Billy Ray. Opens Friday. Written and directed by Billy Ray. At GTA theatres. 110 minutes. 14A

Crime thriller Secret in Their Eyes gets just one thing exactly right: the timing of its release.

It arrives the same week as news of a Memento remake and Tomb Raider reboot, adding up to three dispiriting indications of Hollywood’s creative lethargy. Rather than go to the effort to tell an exciting new story, too often the default position is to retell an old one, almost invariably to lesser effect.

Such is the case with Secret in Their Eyes, an English-language redo of a 2009 film by Argentina’s Juan José Campanella that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Writer/director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) replaces the brilliant South American cast with a merely competent Hollywood one. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman assume the lead roles of a detective, cop and attorney torn by the professional and personal aftershocks of an unresolved rape/murder case from 13 years earlier.

The action is shifted to Los Angeles and the subtext is now post-9/11 terror expediency rather than the nuances of fate and regret that made the original film so rich and satisfying.

Ejiofor’s Ray Kasten is a former FBI agent, now a New York baseball security manager, who in 2002 was based in L.A. He and his investigative colleague Jess Cobb (Roberts) were shattered by the rape and murder of a teen girl that occurred in the midst of their special task-force investigation into a local mosque suspected of terrorist ties.

A man named Marzin (Joe Cole) was suspected but never fully investigated, because he was considered a vital undercover informant in the mosque operation. Complicating the situation was Kasten’s perhaps ill-considered romantic interested in an upwardly mobile lawyer connected with the case, Claire Sloan (Kidman).

Flash forward to 2015, and Kasten has returned to L.A. with ghosts from his past to contend with and a nagging feeling of guilt that he could have done more. He’s spent the past 13 years examining photos of suspects and thinks he can now crack the case — but his superiors, including now district attorney Sloan, are reluctant to reopen both the case and old wounds.

Many of the things that made the original film work so well seem drained of power and emotion in the remake, and this includes Danny Moder’s desultory cinematography.

Photos that burned in on the film’s title are now just images on a computer screen. A thrilling sequence in a soccer stadium becomes a then-that-happened one in a baseball stadium. And the terrorism angle really goes nowhere. Even the macho showdown involving three characters lacks both the shock value and the black humour of the original.

It’s not that Secret in their Eyes is so terrible. Everyone hits their marks, especially Roberts, who imparts a genuine sense of loss to her character. And the story is strong enough to interest anyone who hasn’t seen the original — although they’d be far better off to that do just that, rather than wasting time with yet another unnecessary Hollywood remake.


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