By Leslie C. Halpern
This mystery thriller, based on the 2009 Argentinean film El Secreto de Sus Ojos and the book of the same name by Eduardo Sacheri, provides a fascinating look into the human psyche.
Set in the present day and in early 2002, anti-terrorism efforts are the top priority of a team of Los Angeles-based FBI investigators. In 2002, with a snitch on the inside of a mosque who’s on the brink of releasing important information, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Jess (Julia Roberts), and the rest of the team wait restlessly for the news about terrorist cells within that organization.
When the body of a murder victim is discovered in a dumpster in the parking lot next door to the mosque, Ray and Jess are first on the scene. To their absolute horror, they discover the victim was Jess’s 18-year-old daughter, brutally raped and murdered and thrown into the trash. In a moving scene that’s simultaneously revolting and beautiful, Jess (Roberts is amazing here) jumps into the dumpster to hold her daughter one last time.
Finding the Girl’s Killer
The team faces a conflict because Ray and Jess want to focus on finding the girl’s killer, but their boss, Morales (Alfred Molina) appears strangely disinterested in solving the case. Harvard-educated, Claire (Nicole Kidman), recently hired by the District Attorney’s office, also feels the pull of wanting to help her new friends Ray and Jess, and wanting to appease her bosses and keep her new job. Complicating the situation even more, Ray harbors a not-so-secret attraction for Claire that clouds his thinking almost as much as his obsession with finding the killer of Jess’s daughter.
Jess, Ray, Claire, and another team member, Bumpy (Dean Norris), do what they can to catch the murderer without any help from their department at the Bureau. Ultimately, the killer is found, confesses, and then immediately gets released back into society where he disappears into the crowd. But Jess, Ray, Claire, and Bumpy don’t forgive or forget.
Now, 13 years later, Ray believes the murderer has surfaced again when he spots a similar-looking man on a list of mug shots of recently released convicts. Again, he goes to Claire for help and gets a lukewarm response because of her conflicting personal desires and professional obligations. He also enlists Jess and Bumpy in his attempt to catch the killer and finally bring him to justice.
Themes of Obsession and Vengeance
The themes of obsession and vengeance manifest through the actions of Ray and Jess. Claire has more of a clinical approach to life, love, and criminal justice. As such, Ejiofor and Roberts have the meatier roles that span a range of emotions and subtle shifts in their characters. Kidman has only one memorable scene – when she purposefully engages the murder suspect in confessing his crime – but otherwise serves more as the unobtainable object of Ray’s desire.
Frequent jumps back and forth from 2002 to 2015 can be quite confusing as the characters don’t change that much physically, and they’re still discussing the same case then and now. Ray’s hair has some grey in the later scenes, Claire has shorter hair, and Bumpy uses a cane, but these features aren’t always instantly recognizable. Jess, however, has more noticeable changes in her appearance. Ray even tells her she looks like she’s “a million years old.” If viewers still think of Roberts as Pretty Woman, they might change their minds after seeing what the death of her character’s daughter does to her physical appearance. Joe Cole does a convincing job portraying the killer, looking more like a harmless pothead than a rapist and murderer, until a chilling smugness emerges that makes him seem capable of anything.
Despite great acting overall, the film relies too much on its nonlinear structure, which doesn’t work well here because viewers may miss nuances in dialogue while struggling to establish the time. Even so, this creepy thriller with its exploration into the minds of multiple characters offers a satisfying mystery that should at least keep viewers firmly planted in their chairs – if not on the edge of their seats.
Secret In Their Eyes
- A brutal murder from 13 years ago interferes with the personal and professional lives of a close-knit team of investigators.
- Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Alfred Molina, Joe Cole, Michael Kelly, Zoe Graham
- Writer-Director: Billy Ray
- Genre: Mystery Thriller
- Run Time: 111 minutes
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language, and some sexual references)