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.
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.