DVD Review - Secret in their Eyes

El secreto de sus ojos won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2010. Billy Ray was nominated for Best Writing for his screenplay Captain Phillips (2013). Ray directed one of my all-time favorite films, that of Shattered Glass (2003), so when I learned that he was adapting El secreto de sus ojos, I was intrigued and curious to see it. There are slight parallels or corollaries to Shattered Glass in that there are two characters where one has a secret and the other is trying to uncover some truth until the two collide and that secret is exposed. The one with the secret even tries to mislead the other, but, unlike his previous films, this movie doesn't possess the fun or the thrills, even dramatically. It's mainly just somber and depressing.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave and Kinky Boots) stars as Ray Kasten, a federal agent who works for the Counter Terrorism Task Force in Los Angeles. He's an obsessive but honorable guy who falls in love with an up-and-coming lawyer in the District Attorney's office named Claire, played by Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours and Moulin Rouge). Ray works and is friends with a fellow agent who is a bit saucy named Jess, played by Oscar-winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich and Pretty Woman).

The time period starts in 2002 less than a year from September 11. The Counter Terrorism or CT Task Force is surveying a mosque that might be connected to Islamic extremists. Their investigations are derailed when Ray and Jess go to a crime scene near the mosque and find the dead body of Jess' daughter Carolyn. Jess is devastated and Ray goes on the hunt regardless of everything.

What's interesting about the story and the screenplay is that Ray's doggedness leads him to discover the identity of the killer. However, due to various issues, Ray isn't able to arrest the guy named Marzin. Missteps cause Claire to be not able to build a case against Marzin. The frustrations of the legal system in order to get justice is explored and how people can hit brick walls, as well as be pushed to wanting to circumvent the system or put the law into their own hands.

In that respects, this film is reminiscent of Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners. Michael Kelly (House of Cards) and Alfred Molina (The Normal Heart) represent those frustrations and that brick wall. As such, the movie really could have been a dissection of what justice is and how effective the police and the courts actually are, especially when the suspect is a white guy like Marzin. Despite his connection to a mosque, he doesn't look like he's Arab or Muslim.

Where the movie falls apart is the ending. Talking about it would be a spoiler. So, spoiler alert!

About half-way through the film, Ray tells Jess that her daughter's killer, Marzin, will get away with it, so he suggests killing Marzin. Jess shoots down that idea. 13 years later, Ray re-opens the case and goes after Marzin. Jess tags along, but it's revealed that Ray is going after the wrong guy. Ray refuses to believe it's the wrong guy until Jess says she knows it's the wrong guy because she killed Marzin years ago.

There is one more twist after that, which undermines this revelation, but the problem with the ending is inherent in this first twist. As was stated, Ray tells Jess that he has no problem killing Marzin for her or with her, so the fact that she would let his investigation go on for as long as it does, especially after the 13 years, and not tell him that she already killed him is a little stupid.

The original El secreto de sus ojos didn't have this contrivance, which made the victim's relative a law enforcement agent who got involved in the investigation. From what I remember, it also didn't have the lead investigator be a friend who said that he would illegally kill the perpetrator. Making the victim's relative a friend of the lead investigator was a mistake in this re-imagining of that Argentinian story.

It just makes the fact that Jess who is the victim's relative, her mother this time around, not tell Ray who becomes the lead investigator what she did or what her cover story is sooner rather ridiculous. It killed the ending for me. There was a good concept here though that was well acted and fairly-well directed. It wasn't as well directed as the original but it wasn't worse either.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.


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