Secret in Their Eyes and all the images you see in this review are owned by STX Entertainment
Directed by Billy Ray
Does anyone even remember that this movie was supposed to come out? I remember seeing trailers a LONG time ago but then they just stopped and I haven’t seen one for this in probably four or five months. Did the studio lose faith in it despite its all-star cast (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, and Julia Roberts just to name a few)? It seems that the Studio is angling for this to be an Oscar type film along the lines of Michael Clayton or LA Confidential based on the trailers we initially got, but maybe something happened between then and now that cause the studio to lose faith in this film’s ability to reach the main stream audience. Is this a solid thriller that will generate some positive buzz through word of mouth, or are we looking at something that the studio was desperate to bury? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as he tries to solve the murder of the daughter of his friend Jess (Julia Roberts). It’s not going all that well considering he’s just getting a breakthrough after thirteen years of diligent work, but at least he has something he can bring to the district attorney Claire (Nicole Kidman). Now this is where things start to break down so I’ll try to get this story across as best as possible. Thirteen years ago, Ray was an FBI agent that got transferred to a Los Angeles after 9/11 with a whole bunch of other agents because everyone thought that was where the next attack would be. One of those agents is Jess who becomes his partner and they become friends along with Bumpy Willis (Dean Norris basically reprising his role as Hank Schrader to the point that they eventually give the dude a cane) and the new Assistant District Attorney Claire. One day, they find Jess’s daughter dead and bleached in a dumpster outside of a Mosque they’re investigating and it completely destroys Jess. They have a suspect in some kid named Marzin (Joe Cole) that they’re DAMN sure did it but due to some extenuating circumstances, the head of the LA FBI office (Alfred Molina) doesn’t want to pursue this further. The kid is actually an informant for the office asshole Reg Seifert (Michael Kelly who’s kind of an American Andrew Scott only less awesome) who is spilling secrets on the mosque which might be harboring a terrorist cell. That and a general lack of hard evidence means he gets away with the murder and then just disappears soon after.
Now I’m actually summing up what they reveal over the course of the movie as we find all this out through flashbacks. The REAL movie takes place in the present where Ray has found something that he feels to be enough to reopen the case which is a mugshot of some dude who looks like Marzin. The strange thing though is that he’s not a fucking FBI agent anymore! He moved to the private sector (something to do with a baseball team) but when he goes BACK to LA to present his findings to the district attorney, he somehow gets a badge and gun back. WHAT!? Even James Bond had to at least go through a day of training and psyche evaluations before the let him back in the field, and we’re supposed to believe that this guy who just admitted to obsessing over this ONE CASE for thirteen years has been given a gun by the government to hunt down the killer!? I really don’t get this part of the movie. Well anyway, he’s back on the case and ready to finally nail this fucker for what he did to Jess’s daughter whom he only knew for about a year and yet has spent the las thirteen years tirelessly looking through mugshots all over the country to try and find her killer. Can he finally put this case to rest and get justice for Jess? Will this be yet another dead end and he’ll have to go back to searching for clues so he can reopen this case again later? SERIOUSLY!! Why the hell did this guy spend THIRTEEN YEARS going through mugshots!?
What the hell is this monstrosity!?!? I honestly wasn’t prepared to sit through the police procedural version of The Room, but sure enough this movie proved to be one of the most baffling disasters I’ve seen all year. There isn’t a moment of this mystery that makes any sense and the characters act completely inhuman without any reasonable explanation such as everyone being one of those David Icke lizard people. I don’t know if this has the audacity or unique sense of style to make this a MEMORABLY awful disaster like Southland Tales, The Room, or even Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, but this is on that level of awfulness. No question about it.
While the cinematography is fine and the acting is as good as it CAN be here, the story and the script are completely irredeemable. The mystery is shoddily put together without any real thought or explanation for how Marzin even pulled off the damn thing. There’s no reason for WHY he committed the crime or even a believable escalation of his behavior. There is ONE picture of an FBI picnic he went to (Reg invited him) where he’s LOOKING at Jess’s daughter and that’s it as far as his obsession with her. No stalking, no phone calls, no change in the daughter’s behavior to indicate she was afraid of someone, nothing. Guy just one day decides to slice a mother fucker and has a meticulously planned out method that I guess he was saving for just the right person. The closest we get to motivation is a bad case of toxic masculinity, but there’s zero manifestation of that behavior outside of a flare up in an interrogation scene. You know, I never thought I’d give The Perfect Guy credit for anything, but at least they built up his insanity! It wasn’t believable, but at least they showed his behavior change. Even in the present, it’s not that compelling. Ray thinks he found the guy from one of the hundreds of thousands of mugshots he’s poured through in the last thirteen years and the guy appears to have just gotten released on parole under a new identity. All the investigation consists of is following this guy around like two or three times which means there’s no real evidence gathering or building a case or anything like that. They’re just watching him to see if he commits a crime which will… prove he killed her years ago? I guess?
The script is absolutely abysmal, but I think we can point the issue to something a little more specific which is Ray. I know Chiwetel Ejiofor is a fine actor, but this is one of the most unrealistic and incomprehensible characters I’ve ever seen in a film. Hell, maybe it’s because he’s such a good actor that this role comes off as sincerely awful as it does because, while he may be doing things that make absolutely no sense, the dude sells them like crazy. The guy’s dedication to this one case is impossible to understand. I get that he’s friends with Jess and wants to do this for her, but there is a piece missing to this puzzle and the movie doesn’t even realize it. He commits NUMEROUS felonies from breaking and entering, stealing Marzin’s personal possessions including (which you would think would invalidate them as admissible pieces of evidence), and beating the shit out of him during the interrogation in some vain attempt to bring this guy to justice. Oh, and the stolen evidence in question is a comic book he illustrated detailing the murder he committed (or at least metaphorically alluded to it) because this is that kind of movie. That’s just the beginning though! When things start to turn pear shaped for the investigation, he considers murdering the dude in cold blood and is only held back by Jess. Is that enough? Of course not! After the guy disappears, he spends thirteen years going through mug shots to try and find if this guy pops back up. He has no life or family of his own, and seems to only live to solve this case. Even when he DOES find the guy in the mug shots, the investigation goes off the rails because he won’t do a damn thing he’s told and makes a mistake SO bad that he should go to fucking jail for it. They try ONE time to justify his obsessive behavior. The day Jess’s daughter died, he was supposed to meet her so they can shop for a cake for Jess’s birthday. BULL. SHIT!! If this movie had a modicum of self-awareness, they would have taken that opportunity to show that Ray was actually having sex with her or something like that. Hell, the guy taking advantage of an underage girl (she was sixteen when she was murdered) wouldn’t be THAT far removed from his other behavior, especially around Clair! Yeah, I haven’t even touched upon the dude’s creepy obsession with Nicole Kidman but needless to say that it does nothing to help us like this unsettling bastard. Despite all these confounding and off putting characteristics, the movie never expects you to dislike him which just makes the whole movie incredibly uncomfortable to sit through.
I also want to bring up the ending. Without spoiling too much, it’s basically a double twist. You get the first twist fifteen minutes before the movie ends which explains what’s going on, and then you get a twist five minutes before it ends that is supposed to upend everything you though you knew up to this point. The first twist is… fine I guess. It at least gives Julia Roberts the chance to be the MAIN CHARACTER in a movie about her daughter getting killed, but it also makes Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character seem EVEN STUPIDER than he already was which is an impressive feat, but makes this movie even worst in hindsight. The second twist feels completely unnecessary and misses the point of even HAVING a second twist. It changes a detail which COULD be significant, but it does nothing to change how the story was going to end. I don’t even know why they bothered adding that detail or even obscuring it for five minutes considering how little impact it ends up having despite the movie INSISTING that this is a big revelation. It’s not.
So where did this movie come from? Why are all these big name stars in a movie this dreadful? Well it turns out that this movie is a remake of an Argentinian film from 2009 called The Secret in Their Eyes which won the Oscar for best foreign film that year. What we have here is a movie that everyone ASSUMED would be good. They got people in with the promise of an Oscar caliber remake being adapted by the guy who wrote Captain Philips, but the end result is an absolute mess. I’ve never seen the original so I don’t know how faithful of an adaptation it is, but I’m guessing there are some significant changes considering how much 9/11 is a part of the initial investigation. Bottom line is that everyone came into this expecting it to be good due to its pedigree and yet we’re proven once again that talented people can be responsible for total disasters. I guess the lesson here is the same one we should have learned after The Lone Ranger or even No Country for Old Men. It’s not often that someone wants to be the one person to stand up and start criticizing the work of either great creators or great material. The Cohen Brothers made a ton of spectacular films, but made a film with an ending that works better in a book. The Lone Ranger existed because Gore Verbinski brought in a billion dollars with three pirate movies and it also had Johnny Depp in it. This was made because someone thought that a foreign film could easily translate into critical acclaim here in the US. Yeah… it doesn’t always work that way. Just ask Spike Lee. This one went bad in such an astounding way though, that it’s kind of worth seeing. Not in a theater, but maybe if you’re having a bad move night a couple of months down the road and are tired of watching Birdemic or Sharknado over and over again. Despite its professional veneer and strong pedigree, this movie is the bottom of the barrel of dreck which can be entertaining its own right but not enough to sincerely recommend this to anyone.
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