What would you do if the love of your life, the reason you exist, was suddenly ripped from your arms? Would you slowly start to rebuild your life while mourning their death or would you stop at nothing to find their killer and bring them to justice?
This is what Billy Ray’s Secret in Their Eyes asks. Based on a 2005 novel originally titled La pregunta de sus ojos (The Question in Their Eyes) by author Eduardo Sacheri, Julia Roberts plays Jess, an FBI agent who has her world turned upside down when her daughter is found brutally murdered and thrown in the dump behind a mosque. From there, the team of investigators: Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Jess, and the District Attorney supervisor, Claire (Nicole Kidman), deal with the legalities of making a case against a suspect and the complications of dealing with a government informant and sabotage.
Overcome with grief and seeking vengeance, Jess becomes a tormented shell of her former self while Ray is determined to find the killer. The plot thickens when the timeline goes back-and-forth between the present and thirteen years forward when Ray discovers a clue that can solve this case for good. However, there’s a more crippling secret that could forever change the lives of everyone involved.
Secret in Their Eyes is an uneven multi-layered drama that rests heavily on the shoulders of Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor, with everyone else playing forgettable characters. This unnecessary remake of the 2009 film is tedious at its core and struggles at best with trying to insert an ounce of suspense. Instead of focusing on the psychology and thrill of a cat-and-mouse game, it becomes a day in the life of mundane police work filled with bored cops, yawn-filled crimes, and criminals. However, there are small moments (few and far between) when life is breathed into these elements, making the film watchable. The pure suffocation of depression that hangs in the air and touches every facet of the film somehow draws the audience in.
Knowing its strengths, the movie relies heavily on the consequences of Jess who is trying to cope with her daughter’s death. When the audience isn’t suffering from the stale nature of police work, or the sloppy editing of certain scenes, they will feel the overcoming nature of grief, guilt, and quiet anger. Roberts shines as a mother mourning in silence. Her once bright smile and rosy cheeks are replaced with an ashen, gaunt blank stare. While she’s present she’s never fully there as her mind drifts away to thoughts of her daughter. Whether or not this is a ploy to force emotions on the audience it’s better than the alternative: the audience falling asleep.
Ejiofor, as a man on a mission, also shines. There’s a secret he too is hiding and his unspoken guilt is eating away at his soul. However, instead of letting it consume him, it fuels his quest. He brings a shining light to Roberts’ black hole. Everyone else never had a chance as they drown in the staleness. Kidman, as the current District Attorney, has an unspoken attraction to Ray driven by stares and deep silence. However, the lack of chemistry is screaming louder than Kidman’s Botox. Their unrequited love story is bashed to death through a series of repetitive storylines, where the characters seem unable to escape this endless loop of suffering.
Secret in Their Eyes is a shell of both the novel and the movie it’s based on. The twist at the end of the previous versions felt like justice smiling upon the audience. Here, it’s more of “it’s over now, please go home.” There’s not much that drives the movie. Besides Ejiofor and Roberts, there’s nothing that makes you want to continue watching.
The movie is simply force-feeding sloppy emotions driven by words on the page. It doesn’t allow anyone to breathe as it tries to balance too may themes at once. It drags way too long instead of capitalizing on terrorism, murder, policing, obsession, guilt, and regret. Instead, it’s replaced with punishing the audience for simply being fooled by its tantalizing title.