This remake of an Argentinian Best Foreign Language Oscar winner deals with passion and obsession, and how these frame and dictate lives. A pretty girl is murdered in the most horrific manner, leaving her police officer mother, Jess (Roberts), and Jess’s friend Ray (Ejiofor) in a desperate hunt for the killer. A prettier district attorney, Claire (Kidman), struggles to balance the demands of her office and the unrequited love between her and Jess. And all this happens against the backdrop of 9/11, with the nervous Los Angeles authorities as obsessive about any leads to prevent a possible attack. The fact that the girl gets murdered near a mosque that is under watch has stirred up many troubled waters.
The film, spanning 13 years, is essentially about the hunt for that killer. It’s not about joining the dots either, as the identity of the guy is established pretty soon. There are also many scenes of him running and being chased. But what makes this film still work is that it’s about what the chase does to the chasers.
The Argentinian film was set against the politics and dirty killings of late ’70s and early ’80s. Ray, also the co-writer, does well to base his film around the paranoia post-9/11.
Both Jess and Ray are working on counter-terror efforts in the Los Angeles district attorney’s office where Claire has just joined as a hot-shot appointee from Harvard. Almost immediately, it is clear that Jess and Ray are very good friends, that Ray really likes Claire, and that she is aware of it.
Soon after, Jess and Ray are called upon to investigate a body that has been found in a garbage bin next to a suspicious mosque. In a powerful scene, Ray approaches the body first and immediately recognises it as Jess’s daughter. As the ashen Ray turns to Jess, she jumps in and breaks down completely.
Warned to keep off the case as it is the job of the homicide department, Ray persists due to Jess and gets some clues on a guy called Marzin (Cole). However, the hurdle Ray keeps running up against is his own team, as Marzin is a “snitch” inside the mosque who is promising to give up a “sleeper cell”.
All the three protagonists are excellent — Ejiofor in his earnestness, Kidman in her perfect detachment that only just cracks, and especially Roberts in her complete devastation. She is almost unrecognisable as the pretty woman once her daughter dies, the smile shrivelling up and dying, the eyes sunken deep within. Ejiofor and Kidman do not exactly light up fire when together, but there is a tenderness between them born of circumstances that’s nice to watch.
At the same time, Kidman dazzles with sheer star power when she uses sexual prowess to drag a semi-confession out of a completely bamboozled Marzin.
A tighter film would see Ray deploy much cleverer and subtler methods than he does in his pursuit of Marzin/Beckwith. However, that is about the only wrong note Secret in their Eyes strikes.
Directed by Billy Ray
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Dean Norris, Alfred Molina, Joe Cole, Michael Kelly, Zoe Graham