A truly good cinematic thriller is a dying breed in 2015. In fact, it has been dying a slow and certain death since the late 90s with very few shining examples of the genre to help those of us still devoted to it not lose faith. One of those rare gems in the last decade was 2009’s The Secret In Their Eyes, an Argentine thriller which balanced human emotion with a truly devastating (AND twisty) storyline so masterfully it rightly won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It still sits in my memory as a near perfect cinematic experience. I would like to use this moment to urge you to go and see this film (well worth whatever Amazon rental fee it involves). Seriously, just stop reading this and go see it.
Have you seen it yet? Welcome back. This brings me to my next point: now, why in God’s name would Hollywood decide to remake this, is beyond me. I understand that they’re out of ideas, I understand that they think that no one watches non-English speaking movies, I understand that the fact that Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, and Chiwetel Ejiofor wanted to be in it made it seem like a good idea from a financial standpoint. I understand all that. But I don’t understand how anyone who loves or cares about movies could think they could improve or bring something new to the table. The Secret in Their Eyes was that perfect.
And yes, here we are, with the remake (entitled Secret in Their Eyes, to avoid any IMDB confusion) before us. And, even if you didn’t see the original, there are issues.
The story centers on a team of FBI investigators, and their rising DA whose early 2000s counter-terrorism focused existence in LA is shaken up when a daughter of one of their own is found raped, killed, and bleached inside out. The story then zigzags back and forth over the course of thirteen years looking through their personal and professional grapples with this crime (and each other), as well as the devastating consequences it has had on everyone.
It is heady stuff, and the original dynamic was reworked so that two key male characters are blended into one EXTRA KEY female character since Julia Roberts apparently really wanted in on this film, which is both problematic and a high point because Roberts shines. It has been a while since we’ve seen her lay herself so bare on the screen, using the peaks and planes of her extraordinary face to convey emotion in ways that feel so true that you objectively can’t take your eyes off of her. She is a movie star AND an actress, and she is proud to be both. Sadly, this only makes some of the other casting issues more obvious. Nicole Kidman’s permanently pinched botox visage is an issue Hollywood should have addressed years a go, but in this case it is a downright liability. Her and Ejiofor can’t establish their crucial-for-the-storyline chemistry to save their lives, so many of the potential subtleties of the story are lost somewhere in the mix.
And speaking of subtleties, most of them effectively thrown out of the window. Billy Ray, both writing and directing, is prone to both too-long expositions where no exposition is needed, and avoiding a lot of necessary backstory/motivation set-up where backstory/motivation set-up is needed (the movie will leave you with a lot of questions). All of this, no matter how counter-intuitive and sporadically insulting to the audience intelligence, would be OK if the ending had not been botched in the most annoying big studio way imaginable, taking the punch-in-your-gut energy that the original had right from under it and tossing it in the nearest Hollywood screenplay lets-try-and-appease-everyone bin.
But then, as I mentioned, a truly good cinematic thriller is a dying breed in 2015. So, if you are looking for one, skip this uneven, unsubtle remake and head straight for the 2009 original gem. You won’t regret it.