It isn’t often a Hollywood remake of an award-winning foreign film is able to garner the same reception—it’s even less common that a trailer for said film is more intriguing and well put together than the actual product. Thus, it’s no secret Billy Ray’s Secret In Their Eyes, a remake of 2009’s similarly-titled Oscar-winning Argentinian mystery thriller minus the ‘the’, did exactly that. The 3-minute preview was cut in a way that conveyed the story of Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) one CIA investigator obsessing over the unsolved murder of Carolyn Cobb (Zoe Graham), the daughter of his co-worker and friend, Jess (Julia Roberts). After 13-years, Ray refuses to give up the case despite both the District Attorney (Nichole Kidman) and Governor (Alfred Molina) citing a lack of evidence and focus to his anti-terrorism duties. Concurrently, the trailer shows Jess as a mother taking matters into her own hands, combating the legal system. However, not understanding its characters in a character-driven plot – not to mention an unnecessary convolution of flashbacks – betray the trailer and the original film.
Roberts owns the absolutely heartbreaking moment when Jess discovers her daughter’s murder on an otherwise routine visit to a murder scene. No tears are needed, as she jumps into the dumpster, removes her plastic gloves, and holds Carolyn one last time, barely able to heave a dry weep. Robert’s fantastic performance in this scene could have been the emotional catalyst to her actions henceforth as well as Ray’s obsession with the case, except due to any scenes revealing Carolyn as a character being reserved for flashbacks well after the murder, we don’t feel anywhere near the same emotion as the actress is futilely pouring out on screen.
Completing the triangle character dynamic are Ray and Claire (Kidman), but the shape fails to show its strength. Ray is said to have been analyzing headshots for 13 years, yet we’re shown him doing such for less than 15 seconds, while outside the case his obsessiveness is seen in his constant, though refreshingly unsuccessful, advances on Claire. At proverbial tip of this triangle would be the district attorney, her lawful ideals challenged by Jess and Ray’s constant, and illegal, pursuit for revenge. But here in lies the crucial flaw of the dynamic’s downfall: Claire, despite embodying righteousness, never has a scene to fully question and dissect the combination of relatable thirst for repentance and the legal restrictions that protect the guilty. To that, where the trailer suggested moments in which Jess addresses this, the film basically cuts them in during a final blatantly explanatory montage—providing the previewed content but not the expected substance.
FINAL CUT: The framework for an intriguing look into the conflicting morals of justice in theory vs. execution is evident, but overindulgence in flashbacks and a lack of understanding for its characters detract and convolute a potentially invigorating contemporary study.
Secret in Their Eyes receives a 2.5/5