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Secret in Their Eyes (3 stars)

Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in this flawed but watchable remake

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Secret in Their Eyes

Dropping ‘The’ from its title isn’t the only alteration in writer-director Billy Ray’s adaptation of Juan José Campanella’s 2009 Oscar-winning Argentinean thriller. Changing the location from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles, the new version also seeks to comment on perceived abuses of US government power by shifting the initial time-frame to the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.

The core motivations of the original story remain similar; in 2015, former FBI investigator Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wants to re-open a cold case from 2002, but needs the support of ambitious district attorney Claire (Nicole Kidman). The complication is that their former colleague Jess (Julia Roberts), the mother of the victim, still has understandable grief issues and lacks enthusiasm for a fresh pursuit of the guilty. Kasten thinks he has a lead worth following, but soon discovers that covert government forces obscure the path to justice.

Third-time helmer Ray has made a name with his screenplays for thrillers including The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips and State of Play, but somewhat fumbles his attempts to provide a fresh context to what is effectively a complex police procedural. Dark allusions to the War on Terror prove too substantial to integrate smoothly into the melodramatic twists and turns of the plot, which are relayed in a confusing flashback structure, leaving the starry cast with a mountain to climb in terms of suggesting genuine human drama. Although changing the grieving relative from husband to mother gives Roberts a chance to do some heavy, often impressive, emoting.

That said, anyone unfamiliar with the superior original should still find this a decently-made, rather moody thriller. Ray deserves some plaudits for his politically-minded intent, even if his botched execution of the story’s key beats leaves much to be desired.

General release from Fri 26 Feb.

Secret In Their Eyes

  • 3 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 111 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Billy Ray
  • Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts
  • UK release: 26 February 2016

A former FBI investigator (Ejiofor) wants to reopen a cold murder case from 2002, needing the support of an ambitious DA (Kidman); however, the victim's mother, a former colleague of theirs (Roberts), wants it to be behind her. Melodramatic remake of Juan José Campanella's brilliant 2009 thriller; some interesting ideas…

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