More intriguing than the suspense at the centre of the film is the mystery of how so many talented people, both in front of and behind the camera, could produce such a middling effort as Secret in Their Eyes. This remake of the excellent Argentine film that won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2009 is surprisingly inert despite its impeccable pedigree.

The plot follows FBI agent Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and his relentless efforts to solve the murder of the daughter of his partner Jess (Julia Roberts). Frustrated that the perpetrator was allowed to walk free because he was an informant, Ray remains haunted by their inability to bring him to justice, obsessing about the case long after he’s left the force. 13 years later, he revisits his ex-boss Claire (Nicole Kidman) and appeals to Jess and her to reopen the case, convinced that he’s tracked down the guy.
Never moody or atmospheric like the original film, at best this remake evokes the paranoia of post-9/11 America, using that as an integral device to drive the plot. Alas, writer-director Billy Ray (Oscar-nominated for scripting Captain Phillips, and helmer of such compelling dramas as Breach and Shattered Glass) fails to drum up enough moments of tension or urgency, and doesn’t bring much visual flair to his storytelling either. Cutting clumsily between 2002 and present day, the narrative feels slow and fractured, the plot seldom achieving its desired emotional impact.
Expectedly, it’s the cast that keeps your interest in the drama alive. Ejiofor delivers some great dramatic moments, and Roberts offers a nicely restrained performance as the grieving mother. Kidman is good, particularly in a scene in which she sexually taunts a suspect. Her chemistry with Ejiofor’s character, however, is particularly unremarkable, which is a shame given that we’re meant to believe that they share a deep unspoken connection.
Aside from a few moments of great power – Jess walks into an elevator and straight into her daughter’s murderer, who’s just been let go – the film feels surprisingly generic. It neither raises the ‘creepy’ factor to Zodiac levels, nor does it leave you pondering its moral dilemmas the way Prisoners did.
I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Secret in Their Eyes. Do yourself a favor – watch the original film instead.

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