Secret in their Eyes movie review - A-list cast can't save sloppy script
Messy remake more like episode of 'Law & Order'
Back in 2010, an Argentinian crime thriller called The Secret in their Eyes won the Best Foreign Language Oscar. It was bold and ingenious and boasted a pretty handy plot, and so Hollywood decided to re-hash it for middle America, which as we know is allergic to subtitles.
And so we get this modestly budgeted remake, which moves the story from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles, and flits between events in 2002 and the present day.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, who's turning up everywhere these days, is Ray Kasten, a former FBI man who's haunted by a case he never solved. Kasten is working for a counter-terrorism unit in 2002 when the daughter of a colleague is raped, murdered and left in the bottom of a dumpster.
Caroline was Jess Cobb's (Julia Roberts) only child, and her devastation makes Ray all the more determined to bring the perpetrator to justice. When he discovers a link between the dead girl and a character called Marzin (Joe Cole), Ray becomes convinced that he's the killer.
He goes to the new assistant district attorney Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman) for help, and while she's sympathetic, their boss Martin Morales (Alfred Molina) reads them both the riot act.
Marzin, it turns out, is his mole in a radical Los Angeles mosque that's been under surveillance for months: in post-9/11 America homeland security trumps all other concerns, and they're told in no uncertain terms that their suspect is untouchable.
Ray, however, is disinclined to cooperate, and begins a covert investigation with the help of one of his colleagues. When they eventually arrest him, Ray and Claire trick Marzin into admitting that he killed the girl, but Morales orders his release and helps destroy a van that might have provided solid forensic evidence.
Kasten resigns in disgust, but 13 years later returns to California to bring Marzin to justice.
Adapted and directed by Billy Ray, Secret in their Eyes takes an interesting story and reduces it to the level of a Law & Order episode. Extraneous details have been expunged, and sexier ones added: the idea to replace the trauma of Argentina's Dirty War with 9/11 and its aftermath might have been a good one if anyone had bothered to develop it, but in the end merely feels cheap, and manipulative.
In the original film, Ricardo Darin's haunted policeman had become a writer, and the storyline cleverly conflated his novel and the harrowing true story on which it was based.
But all of that elegant sophistication is abandoned here: the older Ray Kasten runs security at a baseball stadium, and despite Mr. Ejiofor's best efforts seems to exist only as a plot device. He is surrounded by similarly bland cyphers, and his slow-burning love story with Claire Sloan is absurd, even embarrassing. The absence of chemistry between he and Ms Kidman is remarkable, and her cool indifference makes his impassioned longing seem slightly unhinged.
The ageing process has been banished by Ms Kidman, but her co-star Julia Roberts bravely embraces it playing a woman who can never recover from the trauma of losing her child. Every wrinkle and worry line is mercilessly exposed by Mr Ray's camera, and I suspect some new ones may have been added.
Roberts seems drained of all colour, a living embodiment of clinical depression, but her acting never moves beyond the superficial fact of her appearance: she's loud and tinny in a pivotal supporting role.
This stodgy remake plods along like one of those lurid 1980s thrillers, and doesn't really capitalise on the potential of the chase scene in the sports stadium, which was such a splendid centrepiece of the Argentinian version. All the glamour and intrigue of that original film is gone, and Secret in their Eyes proves that throwing movie stars at a story is not always the best way to tell it.
Secret in their Eyes (15A, 111mins)