Director: Billy Ray
Starring: Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman
Billy Ray is a veteran screenwriter, helping to produce solid (if not exactly genius) pictures since the 90s, showing his talent for writing the stories that audiences instinctively appreciate. There’s something to be said for someone who knows exactly what buttons to press, what standards to add in, and what to do to catch our attention, even if the project as an entirety isn’t the greatest thing since French toast. Given the 2009 smash Argentinian film El Secreto De Sus Ojos to work with and a cast of three superstars to tell the story, Billy Ray was almost guaranteed to succeed. Many critics would say that he failed, and a very limited number of average movie-goers even saw this film, but I stand on the other side. I made it a priority to see this film, I prepared myself for a genre thriller, and I thought it worked. Secret in Their Eyes isn’t an award-winner, but it is another solid piece of satisfying cinema from a man who knows what he’s doing.
In 2002 in L.A., a team of counter-terrorism investigators attempt to prevent another 9/11, protecting their city from a possible anthrax attack or whatever the jihadists might bring next. Muslims are under intense scrutiny, mosques are under observation, and the threat of sleeper cells is an enormous concern. The team focuses all their energy on their pursuits, Jess the heady veteran, Ray the ex-homicide cop, and Claire, the DA. But their determination & focus are turned aside after a report that a young woman’s body was found in a dumpster, a young woman who happens to be Jess’s teenage daughter. The murder destroys the group, derails the mother, and when the suspected killer is released, not even vengeance can be served.
Fast forward 13 years. Claire has climbed the government ladder, Jess has aged beyond her time, and Ray abandoned his team to move to New York to work in the private sector. But he never forgot about the case, about the murderer who got away, and about the two women he left behind. He’s been searching for the suspect for 13 years, hoping he would resurface, and when he finally does Ray takes the news to Jess. The investigation is reopened, but under the table, and revenge will not escape the team this time. Here begins the real story, the second chance, and the exposing of long-buried secrets that will rip this trio apart yet again as they attempt to make right something that went terribly wrong all those years ago.
I’m not sure what those who rate this film poorly were expecting when they sat down to watch it. Billy Ray writes surface stories and he does it well. He was given a foreign film to base his movie off of, he took the directing in his own hands for once, and created something that was exactly what I expected; a good thriller with a couple twists that followed standard recipes to a satisfying conclusion. It’s not Se7en, it’s not Memento, but then again Ray isn’t Fincher or Nolan. He’s a capable storyteller who knows that sometimes audiences want to see what’s coming, want to get what we’ve enjoyed before, and don’t need art to appreciate a film. I’d be the first to disagree with those who say that movies are meant for entertainment only, that shallow is better, that depth is overrated. But I can still appreciate a solid effort from a man who is who he is, who isn’t trying to be Martin Scorsese.
And that defense is totally ignoring the other very strong piece of this film that allowed me to like it to the degree that I did, and that would be Chiwetel Ejiofor. He is as invested an actor as you are ever likely to see, throwing himself into his roles with an abandon that’s refreshing. He holds nothing back, gives everything to his characters, and has been producing stellar performances for years because of that. 12 years a Slave, Z for Zachariah, The Martian; and those are just his last few films, the guy is peaking as we speak. Unfortunately, his costars weren’t as excellent. Kidman is always cold, Roberts is always over-dramatic, but thankfully Ejiofor was the glue that held the trio together and made it better than perhaps it actually was. With a solid story and one great actor, Secret in Their Eyes works, at least as much as can be expected.
Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 1080p HD Widescreen, the Blu-ray is a great medium to watch Secret in Their Eyes. The film was shot using Arri Alexa XT Plus and Arri Alexa XT Studio cameras, with Hawk V-Lite, V-Plus, & Angenieux Optimo 2S Lenses. The DVD that accompanies the Blu-ray sports an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 as well, anamorphic widescreen. The video quality of the film is fairly flawless, with excellent clarity of picture and really highlighting the aging faces of the main characters. The color is rather muted, so there’s nothing to pop there, but the movie was shot in a clear, realistic way that was refreshing.
Audio – The Blu-ray was done in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with the DVD being presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, or French. Also, in the menu, button sounds and the revolving ticker can be disabled. The audio of the film is good, though not deserving of a stronger word. The music doesn’t stand out, though there are no glaring balance issues with the sound.
Extras – There are a few special features on the Blu-ray disc, though none are very impressive. Adapting the Story for Today’s World is a 2-minute look at how the film & screenplay were adapted from the original movie; interesting, but short. Julia Roberts Discusses Her Most Challenges Role is a 3-minute discussion on a very powerful scene of the film; again, quite short, but it was a scene that left me fairly speechless. Lastly, the film can be enjoyed with Feature Commentary with Director/Screenwriter Billy Ray and Producer Mark Johnson.
Highly Recommended. No one will call this film the best thriller of the decade, let alone, perhaps, the year, but Secret in Their Eyes deserves recognition for what it achieved. It’s a regular cop/thriller/murder/mystery film with some typical characters & a few twists. It isn’t groundbreaking, but it is solid for those who enjoy the genre. Ejiofor elevates it slightly with an outstanding performances, but his costars and an amateur director keep the movie as a whole for rocketing into rarefied air. The video is high quality, the audio fine, and there are a couple extras on the Blu-ray if you desperately need to know more. All in all, a strong thrill-ride of no amazing distinction, but enjoyable in its own way.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video
☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio
☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras
☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay