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‘Secret In Their Eyes’ Scores A Bull’s-Eye

Part mystery, part thriller, Secret in Their Eyes is pure Hollywood entertainment. It doesn’t pretend to be Important, like so many year-end releases, but it does offer a compelling story with three attractive stars and a top-notch supporting cast. I admire the Oscar-winning Argentinian film on which it’s based, but my memory of it is just vague enough after five years that this one managed to hook me completely.

I do remember that the original confronted politics, bureaucracy and corruption in Argentina. In Americanizing the material, writer-director Billy Ray has cleverly injected post-9/11 paranoia into the proceedings, which take place in 2002 as well as the present day. Juggling the two time periods is easy, based mainly on Chiwetel Ejiofor’s hair and beard—jet-black in the past, graying in the present.

Ejiofor plays an FBI agent reassigned to a Los Angeles counter-terrorism unit, where he works for the District Attorney (Alfred Molina) alongside Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts. When tragedy strikes close to home, Ejiofor becomes obsessed with finding the killer, even though it’s outside his bailiwick and may compromise a larger investigation. Further complicating matters is his infatuation with Kidman, who’s engaged to be married but not uninterested in Ejiofor.

Nicole Kidman, Chiwetel Ejiofor,

Karen Ballard – Courtesy of STX Productions, LLC.

The actors bring passion to their roles and play them to the hilt: no “ironic distance” here. With Dean Norris and Michael Kelly in key supporting roles the interplay among the characters remains fraught from start to finish. And there are a couple of neat twists toward the end.

An A-list screenwriter (The Hunger Games, State of Play, Captain Phillips) and occasional director (Shattered Glass, Breach), Billy Ray hones in on the crucial elements of this story and never loses his grip. That, and a dose of star quality, make Secret in Their Eyes worth seeing.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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