An All-Star Cast in a Slow Burn Crime Drama
Director: BILLY RAY/2015
Secret in their Eyes brings together an impressive cast consisting of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Dean Norris, and Alfred Molina to tell the English version of the film El Secreto de sus Ojos. The film spans a time period of 13 years and weaves two distinct time periods in and out of the narrative, coupled with flashbacks, to catch details of events in-between the 2 timelines, until they all spiral into the final thrilling conclusion.
The strength of the cast is what compels this story forward, despite any weakness in the script. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Ray, a former FBI agent who now works in a counter-terrorism task force. Not used to the bureaucracy and red-tape under his slimy boss Martin Morales, whose political ambitions seem to get in the way of his common sense, Ray finds comfort in his friendship with his partner Jess (Julia Roberts). They are friends in the truest sense, along with fellow officer Bumby (Dean Norris). They go to each other’s houses for games, drinks, and are involved in the lives of the children of their partners. There is no part of their lives that doesn’t involve their fellow officers.
While watching a local mosque for potential leads on terrorism, fresh off the attacks of September 11th (this timeline takes place in 2002), they get a call about a dead body being found in a parking garage next to the mosque. Fearing a connection that could blow their operation, they head down to investigate the murder. When they arrive on the scene, Ray finds out that it is Carolyn (Zoe Graham-Boyhood), Jess’s daughter, who has been brutally raped and murdered. It of course shatter’s Jess, but has real consequences for the rest of the team as well.
The rest of the film follows their investigation into the individual who they believe is responsible. That person is allowed to leave on his own-accord on a technicality after an altercation with Ray, and Ray’s direct supervisor, prosecutor Claire (Nicole Kidman). For the next 13 years, Ray has been looking high and low for the believed suspect after having quit the force and walking away from his love interest in the soon-to-be-married, Clair. When he believes he has found the one responsible, it reunites him with his old friends and colleagues who all have agendas, and political ambition of their own.
The story plods along somewhat slowly, using the two timelines to keep the audience from learning too much of the story at a time. The result is enough investigatory tension to keep one’s interest in where everything is heading, but not enough for the film to ever worry about being mis-conveyed as an action film.
Despite having nearly top billing, Julia Roberts is largely off-screen throughout the film, despite her character being so central to the plot having lost her only daughter to a murderer. Her absence at different stretches throughout the film may be the reason that the ending is as potent as it is.
As a side note, Nicole Kidman is an ageless beauty. She is still as attractive a person as she was when I first saw her on film 25 years ago. That being said, her natural beauty may be the most subtly distracting part of this film. Since the film employs the two time line approach throughout, separated by 13 years, you would think that the film would take the time to “age” the actors for the later timeline….and they do. Julia Roberts is aged to look so poorly in the film that even the character Ray tells her she looks tired. Ejiofor adopts more facial hair as he ages in the story, but there is still a noticeable change in how he looks for each story timeline. With Nicole Kidman, there is no such drop off. Her character of Claire is the only one not aging as the story progresses. Given her naturally pale complexion and the fact that she is playing a blood-sucking lawyer, it would be easy to think her constant beauty over the 13 year timeline was the result of a vampiric origin. But it is not. Maybe the make-up artists and film crew just couldn’t age her down, despite their best efforts.
Ejiofor plays things by the numbers but demonstrates such good chemistry with whoever is in the scene with him. He ends up being the glue that holds this thing together. Most actors, if cast in this role, would probably not be able to pull it all off as smoothly, nor elevate the script as much as this cast is able to do. Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about the what-ifs.
Secret in their Eyes might suffer from not just being slow, but also from the abundance of adult-skewed films in various markets that may crowd out the audience from ever hearing about this film (think about that little James Bond film, Spectre, for example). It’s an interesting story, held together with a strong cast. Unfortunately, the secret may stay hidden….until home video.