(L-R) JULIA ROBERTS, NICOLE KIDMAN, and CHIWETEL EJIOFOR star in SECRET IN THEIR EYES.

Secret In Their Eyes Review: Grown-Up Problems

I did not see the 2009 Spanish language film El Secreto de Sus Ojos. I went into the American Secret in Their Eyes fresh and I would have assumed I was watching a literal English translation re-enactment of the film. I couldn’t imagine anything would be done differently until people started telling me there were things, but that will be for me to find out when I discover the original.

(L-R) JULIA ROBERTS and ZOE GRAHAM star in SECRET IN THEIR EYES.
(L-R) JULIA ROBERTS and ZOE GRAHAM star in SECRET IN THEIR EYES.

Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) spends 13 years looking for the key suspect in the rape and murder of his colleague Jess (Julia Robert)’s daughter (Zoe Graham). When he finds him, Ray returns to the lives of Jess and Claire (Nicole Kidman), now a D.A., to reopen the case. The team previously worked together in counter terrorism at the height of post-9/11 paranoia, and the film bounces back and forth between past and present.

(L-R) CHIWETEL EJIOFOR and JULIA ROBERTS star in SECRET IN THEIR EYES
(L-R) CHIWETEL EJIOFOR and JULIA ROBERTS star in SECRET IN THEIR EYES

I liked the feeling of adults having adult conversations about adult things. There’s a familiar rapport to go along with the maturity, and a professional bond too. Imagine regular people listening to my colleagues and I discuss junkets and screenings. It’s a schedule and terminology relevant to about 50 people but it’s the world we know intimately. The counter-terrorists are a bit more relevant and probably more plentiful, but it’s the same kind of professional intimacy.

There’s a little bit of grief porn in the discovery of the daughter’s body and mourning, but it’s hard to say what the right amount is to convey a realistic reaction to trauma before moving on to the story. I’m probably harping on a few frames too many, but the main focus is on the obsession of the following 13 years. The complexity is poignant too. Remember in 2002 everyone still expected another 9/11 and they were anticipating one in L.A., so that would complicate the suspicion of a single attacker with fleeting evidence in 2002.

(L-R) CHIWETEL EJIOFOR and NICOLE KIDMAN star in SECRET IN THEIR EYES.
(L-R) CHIWETEL EJIOFOR and NICOLE KIDMAN star in SECRET IN THEIR EYES.

I’m never a fan of handheld cinematography, and director Billy Ray chooses to use it for dialogue scenes. An interrogation no less, so here’s your cinematic Captain Obvious: anxious questioning = jittery camera. The cast equips themselves just fine conveying all the layers of that scene on their own, and it’s a particularly powerful moment for Kidman.

There is an exciting foot chase, and some moments that feel too coincidental to be anything other than a movie, but again I’ll assume they were in the original. An elevator scene in particular seems like a stretch to have the three main characters, but the moment it allows those characters to have is worth forgiving the coincidence. Despite hair and makeup, the shifting time period isn’t always clear. It would seem it’s actually harder to make them interchangeable, since every actor has some significant superficial change in the present.

I was satisfied at the end of Secret in Their Eyes so I didn’t feel motivated to see another version of it. At this point it would simply be a case study in adaptation, but given the complexities and moral ambiguities of the story, it might be worth exploring how different cultures present it, or simply different filmmakers. Or maybe the job of a great adaptation should have been to make me HAVE to see the original right away. If you tell me the original ends with a Spanish-language cover of “Bette Davis Eyes,” then it’s clearly the winner.