Written and directed by Billy Ray / Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, and Julia Roberts
It is rarely easy to sit through an American remake of a beloved foreign film. Many learned the hard way when Spike Lee thought it would be a good idea to remake OLDBOY. Others were lucky to experience David Fincher’s version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, which was surprisingly dark, and therefore a pleasant viewing session for fans of the original. With SHATTERED GLASS director Billy Ray’s SECRET IN THEIR EYES, we get to see what happens when someone remakes a film that was not all that great to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Oscar winning EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS is a good film, just not great. The Argentinian film was a pretty standard mystery/thriller, improved by some great acting and a powerful third act. Ray attempts to recreate this, while making specific changes that sometimes work and sometimes do not.
The film shifts between the past and the present, following Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as he hunts down the man who was not charged for murdering and raping the daughter of Jess (Julia Roberts), his old co-worker at the FBI. Ray enlists the help of their then co-worker Claire (Nicole Kidman), now District Attorney, to bring justice to the man that got away thirteen years earlier.
The most notable, and most successful change from the original film is the character of Jess. Originally a male, using Julia Roberts in the gender-shifted role is one of the film’s strong points. Roberts does not make too many on-screen appearances these days, so it’s good to see that she is not wasted here. Considering the fact that Kidman can barely move her face these days, her role as the cold Claire seems just right. It is the two female leads that carry the film. Ejiofor is good, but his character seems to exist solely for plot purposes, allowing the ladies to bring home the tensest moments.
While this American remake is surprisingly decent, it suffers from the faults often associated with American films. Ray plays it safe, avoiding some of the Argentinian film’s most jaw-dropping moments. It attempts to recreate some of the original’s best scenes, but seems to do so through a PG-13 lens, removing much of the shock value. What perhaps hurts Ray’s film the most is his ending. Rather than going for the powerful and ambiguous ending of the original film, Ray ties everything together in a neat, little bow, leaving absolutely nothing to the viewer’s imagination.
Remakes are often terrible, so it is a relief to say this one is actually pretty good. The biggest problem with SECRET IN THEIR EYES is that without the shocking displays of the original film, it becomes quite forgettable. Thus the film often plays like no more than an extended primetime procedural with some A-list actors.