Thursday, 03 March 2016

Secret in their eyes

An old-fashioned thriller featuring some very fine movie stars doing their stuff

Written by Jason Solomons
Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176A Hollywood remake of the 2009 Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Secret In Their Eyes has been a long time coming. Transposed from Buenos Aires, the action now finds itself in Los Angeles just as Chiwetel Ejiofor’s careworn security consultant Ray Kasten finds himself back at his former office in front of newly promoted DA Claire Sloane, played by Nicole Kidman with great hair.

Being back on his old beat triggers off memories for Ray, and the action flits back and forth to a case that clearly still haunts all concerned: 13 years ago, Kasten’s partner in the bureau’s Counter Terrorism Unit, Jessica Cobb (Julia Roberts), experienced the nightmare of discovering her murdered daughter’s corpse.

‘I’ve found him, Jess,’ says Ejiofor’s Ray, who really looks like he’s been searching a long time.

The film becomes about obsession, memory and moving on, or not, just as the original did. The Argentinian film also had a political element, as the haunted investigator (played by that superb actor Ricardo Darín) was drawn into the mysteries surrounding the ruthless Junta and the thousands of ‘disappeared’. Here, that element is not quite replaced by the national paranoia post 9/11, with a mosque under surveillance.

However, perhaps sensing its weakness, the film-makers drop that aspect quickly, concentrating instead in the flashbacks on an unrequited flirtation between ambitious young prosecutor Claire and cool detective Ray, a connection the two characters clearly still have in the present, although it’s painfully buried.

A few years ago, this sort of classily cast thriller would have been the big Hollywood release. Think back to The Silence Of The Lambs or Seven or even Kiss The Girls. Sadly, such starry thrillers have been mainly jettisoned in favour of superhero movies and action franchises, leaving ‘grown-up’ mysteries a rarity.

As such, Secret In Their Eyes is to be welcomed. Kidman is better than she has been for a while (not hard after Grace Of Monaco, I know) and Ejiofor is proving himself a capable and versatile movie star with his recent turns in various genres such as the sci-fi of The Martian and the action-heist of Triple 9.

And don’t forget Julia Roberts, like Kidman a former Oscar winner, these days too often taking parts way beneath their talents, because Hollywood doesn’t really know what to do with women over 40.

Part of the pleasure here involves watching them do their stuff – like the characters in the film, we too remember the past, when they were Hollywood’s top stars. Now Roberts looks haggard (deliberately so, I must add) but can still bring out a couple of grandstanding acting scenes when required – the moment where she finds her daughter in a ‘dumpster’ is heartbreaking.

The Argentinian original features a ‘baddie’ obsessed by football and had a memorable chase through a heaving football stadium. Our detectives eventually work out that the suspect in the remake is an obsessive baseball fan, so we get a sequence at Dodgers Stadium instead, and I admit I’ve always had a soft spot for movies that climax at a famous sporting venue.

So, Secret In Their Eyes is a decent enough, almost old-fashioned procedural thriller (look out for Alfred Molina as the old DA, skilled at burying cases under expedient bureaucracy) but it does take a lurch into slightly lurid and incredulous territory towards the end.

It mightn’t be a classic (remakes never are, generally because the original is the real classic) but it keeps its secrets well hidden and, as an excuse to watch some very fine movie stars going about the everyday business of being, well, you know, good actors, it’s more than a reason to keep your eyes wide open.

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