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‘Secret in Their Eyes’ is Brilliantly Acted Schlock

The film tries to make big points about the American war on terror, but does so within the context of a pretty schlocky plot predicated on big narrative twists.

Secret in Their Eyes splits its time between two time periods. In 2002, in the high-pitched tension following the September 11th attacks, FBI agent Ray Karsten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is working with a special task force investigating a mosque for ties with terrorism. Their investigation gets complicated when the daughter of his partner Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts) is found dead in a dumpster near the mosque. They relentlessly pursue a suspect, only to find the system getting in their way. Thirteen years later, Ray gets a lead on the suspect, and approaches his old colleagues to try and reopen the case and finally get justice.

The film is a remake of the 2009 Argentine film El Secreto de Sus Ojos, which won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2010. Comparisons are inevitable, but ultimately pointless. This film is its own beast, with its own specific cultural flavor. That said, the flavor is a bit hard to swallow. The film tries to make big points about the American war on terror, but does so within the context of a pretty schlocky plot predicated on big narrative twists. Though the acting is terrific, the movie isn’t quite able to acquit itself from its own silliness.

The film, in the end, is a pretty ludicrous thriller. It is built too much on the kind of twist that reveals everything to be a pretty pointless endeavor in the end. But even prior to the big revelation, the film makes it pretty difficult to invest in these characters. The procedural elements just aren’t very good. The film has these characters basically going off on hunches, making big, consequential decisions based on very thin pieces of evidence. In the end, it just feels like these characters aren’t very smart at all.

The whole film is further bogged down with its other elements. There is a romantic subplot that should tie neatly into the themes, but never really becomes enough of a thing to really matter in the end. The film’s attempt to make some sort of statement about 9/11 and America during the war on terror feels pretty tacked on when all is said and done. It provides an interesting context for the failure of their investigation, but it doesn’t feel specific and altogether thought out. It feels like the film is making huge leaps in order to justify its big plot developments.

And it just isn’t very exciting. The direction is sluggish, even in scenes that are supposed to raise the tension. The film just doesn’t offer very much visually, the production seemingly content with leaning on the actors. One can understand this impulse, considering who’s involved. Chiwetel Ejiofor is one of the finest actors around, and he’s got ample support from Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman. But in the absence of any directorial flair, the actors are left to fend for themselves. And though they are able to deliver moments of grace, they end up having to overcompensate for the lack of panache.


Secret in Their Eyes comes out looking pretty confused. It is sort of a cautionary tale about the lengths America went to during the war on terror, but it doesn’t credible at all. It feels like it is preaching from the wrong pulpit, egging on characters to do the wrong thing while shaking its head at the system that is basically doing the same thing. There are interesting pieces to this movie; it just doesn’t feel like they all fit together.

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Secret In Their Eyes
Crime, Drama, Thriller
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