Walt West once said, “The trouble with doing something right the first time is that nobody appreciates how difficult it was.” I’m sure Walt wasn’t talking about Hollywood’s fascination with remaking movies, but it apples to Secret in Their Eyes.
Secret is adapted from the 2005 novel The Question in Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri, and is a remake of the 2009 Argentine film The Secret in Their Eyes – a film that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010. The film has a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 93% audience score, so yeah…it’s pretty good.
The remake tells the story of an unsolved murder, alternating between 2002 and 2015. In present day, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is head of security for the New York Mets. He’s tormented by the death of his old partner’s daughter and spends his nights searching a criminal database for the man responsible. One evening, Ray finds a match and makes his way back to Los Angeles to ask the new DA, and his old love interest, to reopen the case and finally catch the killer.
In 2002, Ray is the new guy in the office and a rising star in the FBI. He’s working alongside Jess (Julia Roberts) on the FBI’s counter terrorism unit. In the wake of 9/11, their assignment is watching a local mosque. Ray quickly falls for the other new person in the office, a beautiful new attorney named Claire (Nicole Kidman).
When Homicide finds the body of an unidentified girl in a dumpster next to the mosque, Ray and his unit are called to investigate. It turns out the unidentified girl is Jess’ daughter Carolyn (Zoe Graham). When the FBI and his superiors try to bury the case, Ray goes on a mission to find the man who killed Carolyn.
The flip-flopping between 2002 and 2015 could be confusing, but Secret does a good job alternating time periods and little bread crumbs that connect the two timelines. The only way to tell what timeline you’re seeing is the gray hair on Ray, Bumpy (Dean Norris) walking with a cane, and Jess looking like a zombie who just finished an 80 hour work week.
Secret feels like a 90’s John Grisham film, and not in a bad way. It’s a classic “whodunit” thriller. It has a great interrogation scene, some genuine intrigue and enough moving parts to keep audiences guessing. The time jumps allow the audience to see how the case fell apart in 2002 and what the team is doing to catch the killer in 2015.
The standout performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor is what holds the film together. Part of being a good actor is making everyone else around you better and not many actors do that as well as Ejiofor. He alternates between a young FBI agent drowning in puppy love to a tired man who can’t find peace and is haunted by a case he never solved
Telling this type of story is difficult to do, and that’s why this film reminds me of the Walt West quote. 2009’s The Secret in Their Eyes is a good film, and that’s not an easy thing to duplicate. Great film making can be an illusion in a lot of ways. It makes people feel like A) It’s easy to do, and B) There’s a simple formula to success. Both are false.
Outside of the intense interrogation scene, the film casual strolls along with occasional moments of action sprinkled in. It’s not because a lack of effort from the actors, the story doesn’t allow for it. The love story in the film never connects. The crime story is a typical crime thriller. The real story, why the case fell apart in 2002, is interesting but never fully explored.
Even with a powerhouse performance from Ejiofor and a thrilling story full of twist and turns, Secret in Their Eyes feels like someone trying to tell you a great story they heard, but leaving out all the nuances that made the original story so good.