[Screen It]


(2015) (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts) (PG-13)

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Dramatic Thriller: A former FBI agent won't give up his search to find the man who raped and murdered his colleague's young adult daughter thirteen years ago.
It's the present day and former FBI agent Ray Kasten (CHIWETEL EJIOFOR) has arrived in the office of Los Angeles District Attorney Claire Sloan (NICOLE KIDMAN) with the belief that he's finally found the killer of Carolyn Cobb (ZOE GRAHAM), the young adult daughter of his former coworker and friend, Jess (JULIA ROBERTS), who still works in the D.A. office. Ray believes the perp is stable worker Beckwith (JOE COLE) who looks similar to the original suspect, but Claire isn't sure about reopening the case, especially since thirteen years have passed since the crime was committed.

Back then, Ray and Claire were transplants to Los Angeles where they were assigned to work on a post 9/11 counter-terrorism team run by then District Attorney Martin Morales (ALFRED MOLINA). When Carolyn's body was found in a dumpster next to the mosque they were scoping out, Ray and coworker Bumpy (DEAN NORRIS) set out to find the killer, eventually figuring out it was likely Marzin (JOE COLE). What they didn't know, however, is that he was an informant for another coworker, Reggie (MICHAEL KELLY), and thus any investigation of him in the rape and murder could ruin the potential for collecting intel on suspected terrorists in the mosque.

As the film jumps back and forth between the two times, Ray does what he can to solve the case, eventually becoming so obsessed with doing so that he threatens the counter-terrorism efforts as well as his working relationship with all of those involved.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
It's long been thought that human beings experience around seven basic emotions along with other varieties and subsets thereof. And we can often experience some of them simultaneously, although one at any given moment usually dominates the mood. While the positive ones can be empowering, however, the negative ones often seem to have far more impact on those currently experiencing them. This past summer's superlative Pixar flick "Inside Out" looked at just that in a unique way, showcasing emotions as their own characters inside a girl's head.

Now, "Secret in Their Eyes" takes a decidedly different but related view of how negative emotions can harm those infected by them. The film -- directed by Billy Ray ("Shattered Glass," "Breach") from his own screenplay adaptation of the previous work -- is a remake of "El Secreto de Sus Ojos," the Oscar winning Argentine film from 2009.

I never saw that well-received flick, so any points of comparison are unavailable. If anything, though, this dramatic thriller -- that's suddenly become increasingly more relevant on a thematic level considering the recent increase in terrorist activity around the world -- has a lot more firepower up on the screen, what with the terrific cast. From Julia Roberts to Nicole Kidman and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the pic is nothing if star-studded.

As it plays out jumping back and forth through time from the present back to 2002 (just months after 9/11), the story focuses on a former FBI agent (Ejiofor) who's obsessively searched for the suspect who raped and murdered the young adult daughter of a colleague (Julia Roberts, de-glammed way down) those thirteen years ago. He was transferred from New York to L.A. to work for the District Attorney (Alfred Molina) alongside that woman and other colleagues (including those played by Nicole Kidman, Michael Kelly and Dean Norris) in a counter-terrorism unit tasked with staking out a suspect mosque.

Just as that begins, Jess' daughter is found dead inside a dumpster next door to that facility, resulting in a conflict between national security and a police investigation with personal ties for all those involved. As that and the present day material are inter-cut, the FBI agent thinks he's found his perp both in the past and present (both men played by Joe Cole).

Helmer Ray reportedly took a cue from Paul Greengrass' shooting of "Captain Phillips" (written by Ray, and where the director didn't have Tom Hanks meet Barkhad Abdi playing the sea pirate until their first day of shooting together) and kept Cole away from Ejiofor and Kidman. The results are somewhat similar in terms of dramatic fireworks, especially when her character assaults the perp's manhood in hopes of making him snap.

But the underlying themes that fuel the film are those negative emotions that arrive in a variety of shapes and sizes. There's the agent's obsession to track down the killer, a quest fueled by his guilt of feeling somewhat responsible for the girl's death (he backed out of a meeting with her that fateful day).

Her mother is racked with grief, anger and more, what with her life having revolved around her daughter. And the FBI agent and Kidman's character in both the past and present carry unresolved longings and "what if" pondering about any potential romance between them, something that ruined one marriage and seems to have heavily damaged another.

That, all of the moral ambiguity about whether national security trumps local law and the overall manhunt spanning two periods might seem like a lot to cram into a dramatic thriller that's just under two hours long. And it ultimately is, as some parts work better than others (the never acted on romance subplot seems half-baked and somewhat forced, and therefore isn't as steamy as intended).

Even so, the end result is a solid police procedural sort of film. It's not great and the twists at the end oddly don't contain as much shock value as they probably could and should have considering the build-up. But the presence of the stars and good to strong performances help carry the pic. And that's no secret in anyone's ojos. "The Secret in Their Eyes" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed November 17, 2015 / Posted November 20, 2015

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