December 9, 2015
The Hollywood film "Secret in Their Eyes" is a remake of "The Secret in Their Eyes" ("El secreto de sus ojos"), an Argentinian film directed by Juan José Campanella which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for 2009. This was a rare instance when a mainstream crime thriller won this particular Oscar usually given to arthouse films. Although we are wary about American remakes of foreign-language films, the powerhouse casting of three Oscar-caliber actors in this one makes a compelling reason to check it out.
In the original film, retired detective Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darin) visits his old friend Judge Irene Menéndez-Hastings (Soledad Villamil) to tell her about his plans to write a novel about the brutal Liliana Coloto rape-murder case which both of them handled 25 years before. This case had no closure because the suspected murderer Isidoro Gómez (Javier Godino) never faced justice because of his role as an informer for government intelligence.
In this remake set in Los Angeles, ex-FBI counterterrorism agent Ray Karsten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) visits his old friend, newly-elected District Attorney Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman) to tell her that he had finally located the suspect of a 13-year old cold case involving the rape and murder of a teenage girl. The prime suspect Marzin (Joe Cole) never faced justice because of his role as an informer about terrorist activities in a Moslem mosque.
The new film recreates a lot of the original scenes which were interesting to note for those who have seen both films. There was a climactic chase scene inside a soccer stadium which was translocated inside the Dodger Stadium in the new film, even including the part when the suspect gets chased into the men's room. The interrogation scene, complete with the revealing blouse of the female agent, was just as intense, although the American version was of course more modest about revealing a certain body part. Not only big scenes, but even smaller details were remade, like the part where a dog was kicked.
A major twist in the new film was the inclusion of a third major character, Karsten's co-agent and investigator Jessica Cobb, played by a completely deglamorized, make-up free Julia Roberts. Roberts figures in the most dramatically-charged moments of this film and it is certainly good to see her back in form, especially after a long absence from the movie scene, her last film being "August Osage County" two years ago. A certain bitter scene of hers had pain so deep everyone could feel it.
Nicole Kidman felt miscast as Claire. Her character never felt as integral as it should have been. The attraction between Claire and Karsten, an important element in the original, was never convincing here. Chiwetel Ejiofor did well in his central role as Karsten, but may have been a little overeager in certain scenes. As for Joe Cole as Marzin, practically nothing he said was clearly understandable because of his strange garbled accent.
Director Billy Ray gave the story development a very slow pace, the thrill hardly building up. While the Julia Roberts twist was a good one, the use of a comic book (instead of letters) as a plot device was rather lame and the extraneous Hollywood ending (with perfect closure) seemed unnecessary . Audiences expecting an acting extravaganza given the stellar cast will mostly be disappointed. This film is not bad (especially for those who have not seen the original), but it is also nothing much to get excited about. The original film remains to be superior to this remake. 6/10.