A tight-knit team of rising FBI investigators – Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Jess (Julia Roberts), along with their District Attorney supervisor Claire (Nicole Kidman) – is suddenly torn apart when they discover that Jess's teenage daughter has been brutally and inexplicably murdered.
Now, thirteen years later, after obsessively searching every day for the elusive killer, Ray finally uncovers a new lead that he's certain can permanently resolve the case, nail the vicious murderer, and bring long-desired closure to his team. No one is prepared, however, for the shocking, unspeakable secret that will reveal the enduring, destructive effects of personal vengeance on the human soul.
Interweaving past and present, this deeply layered mystery explores the murky boundaries between justice and revenge, and asks the question: how far would you go to right an unfathomable wrong?
'Secret in Their Eyes' should come with the sub-heading 'When Good Actors Get Stuck in Bad Movies', because that's exactly how I felt watching this film unfold. The movie is bursting at the seams with talent (even the supporting roles are cast with familiar character actors), but the screenplay asks them to perform in a story that isn't worthy of their skills. It's an A-list cast slumming it in a screenplay deserving of a Lifetime TV movie-of-the-week. Sadly, no one's let these actors in on the joke.
For those not in the know, 'Secret in Their Eyes' is a remake of a 2009 Argentinian film of the same name which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Since we lazy Americans can't be expected to read subtitles for two hours, Hollywood decided to remake the picture with an American cast. And, as seems to be par for the course, they reportedly have changed a lot in this new version (full disclosure: I haven't seen the original film, so I can't definitively say if these changes are for the better or worse, just that they exist). With Academy Award winners Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman here, and nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor rounding out the primary cast, what could possibly go wrong? A lot, sadly.
Ejiofor stars as Ray Karsten, an FBI investigator who, for years, has been obsessed with bringing the murderer of former co-worker Jess Cobb's (Julia Roberts) daughter to justice. As the movie opens, Ray has come to bring new possible evidence to Assistant D.A. Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman), who he also worked alongside with back when Jess's daughter was found dead. For whatever reason, Director Billy Ray and the filmmakers have decided to tell the story in a non-linear fashion, so the movie jumps back and forth between events that happen at the time of the murder and Karsten's continuing obsession with the case years later. The movie leaves it up to the viewer to figure out if they're watching a 'current' scene or a 'past' scene, with the best way to figure out the difference being to look at the actor's hairstyles: particularly the gray added to Ejiofor's or the length of Nicole Kidman's.
As events set in the past reveal, Karsten was able to bring the suspected murder (played by Joe Cole) in at least once, but they could never make the charges stick. However, it's the methods performed to nail him that had me laughing at the implausibilities. First, Karsten teams up with partner 'Bumpy' Willis (Dean Norris) to find Cole at a Dodgers baseball game and just happen to be in the right section of the stadium at the right time to spot him. Then, when Cole is brought back for questioning, Claire starts teasing him about the size of his – ahem – 'manhood' in order for him to lose his cool and attack her (allowing them to keep him in custody on assault charges). The movie is filled with chance occurrences and questionable tactics like this one that will have most viewers shaking their heads. And that's to say nothing of the big 'twist' at the end of the movie – which I guess is similar to the original film, but is so crazy that it left me feeling that I'd just wasted two hours on a story that had no intention of providing a realistic conclusion.
Now that I'm done covering a few of the many things that are wrong with 'Secret in Their Eyes', let me take at least a moment to tell you what's right with the movie, and that can be summed up in two words: Chiwetel Ejiofor. If there's ever an award given out for the best performance in an otherwise ridiculous movie, Ejiofor would win it running away. He's so good in this film, that one wishes someone would have snuck onto the set and told him that the movie he's in is nowhere close to the brilliance of his acting. While Nicole Kidman is rather unimpressive (frankly, I've never found her to be that great of an actress) and Julia Roberts is over-trying (she even goes sans makeup to try and match the look of the character with her emotional turmoil), Ejiofor just plays Ray Karsten as honestly as he possibly can. If Chiwetel keeps approaching roles the way he does here, he's going to have a whole shelf full of awards one day. The guy is just flat-out great at his craft.
Normally, I'd tell folks to skip a movie like this one, but because of Ejiofor, I'm putting this one in the rental column. And who knows – those of you who don't mind a lack of realism in your crime drama and are able to suspend disbelief might actually come away liking this film a whole lot more than I did.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Secret in Their Eyes' unveils itself on home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The discs are housed inside a standard Elite keepcase along with an insert containing a code for both an iTunes and UltraViolet copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. Both the dual-layer DVD and the 50GB Blu-ray are front-loaded with trailers for 'Desierto', The Danish Girl, Steve Jobs, Spotlight, Suffragette, and Trumbo (Note: the last four of these are brief, 30-second spots). The main menu has a standard Universal design, with a still of the box cover image towards the right and menu selections running vertically down the left side of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'Secret in Their Eyes' was shot digitally using Arri Alexa XT Plus cameras and is presented here in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. For the most part, the image is rendered nicely, although noise does creep into the background of a number of shots (which seems to be indicative of the Arri Alexa, rather than issues with the transfer). Black levels are solid throughout, which is helpful as many moments in the film either take place at night or in dimly-lit locales. Details are pretty strong and have the kind of high-def 'pop' to them that viewers will be expecting from a movie that was shot digitally. Colors and skin tones lean slightly on the warm side of things, but they're generally consistent throughout. I didn't detect any glaring problems with aliasing or banding during my viewing. Like most Universal releases, this ranks as an above-average transfer.
The only available audio on this release (other than the optional commentary track) is a 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track. There's not a ton of action in the movie, short of a few foot chases and a touch of gunplay here and there, but this track serves its purpose – with crisp dialogue (almost exclusively up-front) and the rears providing enough ambient noises (as well as musical enhancement) for an enjoyable listen. There's no real directionality to speak of and the track never feels fully immersive, but it more than serves the requirements of a movie like this, and there are no apparent glitches or problems in the audio.
Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
It's a shame that the screenplay is such a mess, because most of the actors in 'Secret in Their Eyes' are doing a really good job. Sadly, the storyline is so ridiculous in parts that one can't take the movie seriously. Still, if you go into this with the right frame of mind, it can provide for some brainless entertainment on a rainy evening. You'll want to rent this one.