Saturday 30 January 2021

Movie Review: Secret In Their Eyes (2015)

An investigative crime drama and romance, Secret In Their Eyes boasts a spectacular cast but is needlessly complicated and coldly uninvolving.

Ex-FBI Agent Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) returns to Los Angeles and reconnects with former colleagues Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman), now the District Attorney, and Agent Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts). Ray is seeking Claire's permission to pursue a man called Marzin (Joe Cole), a suspect in an unsolved murder with a personal connection to Ray and Jess. Flashbacks reveal events from 13 years prior. In the shadow of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Ray and Jess are tasked with monitoring a mosque-based cell, where their colleague Agent Siefert (Michael Kelly) is running an informant. Ray is also attracted to Claire, a lawyer newly appointed to the Los Angeles office. 

The surveillance operation is disrupted when Jess's daughter Crystal is murdered and suspicion falls on Marzin, a member of the mosque community revealed to be Siefert's snitch. District Attorney Morales (Alfred Molina) prioritizes counter-terrorism ahead of solving the murder, leaving Ray frustrated and Jess disillusioned. Now more than a decade later Ray is back for another attempt at capturing Marzin, and he also rekindles his relationship with Claire.

Secret In Their Eyes has too much going on, and also not enough. Billy Ray directs his own script, and while the ambition to cast a personal quest against seminal events is apparent, this is a muddled story always emphasizing the wrong thing. With a backdrop of history's worst terrorist atrocity and then the murder of an FBI agent's daughter, the stuttering romance between Ray and Claire repeatedly gets in the way. She is a cool, cold and calculating lawyer, he is a scrappy field agent, the chemistry never materializes, but Ray keeps on trying.

Meanwhile Julia Roberts finds herself deglamourized and shoved to a background role. Little is revealed about Jess and less is known about her murdered daughter, leaving an emotional void around the central mystery obsessing Ray for 13 years. Marzin as a generic and ill-defined bad guy adds to the impressive blankness.

The constant time jumps make matters worse. Only minor hairstyle changes help differentiate the scenes in the present from those in the past, and with Ray pursuing Marzin in both timeframes, it is often confusing to keep track. And even the action scenes are a let down. On multiple occasions Ray gets close to Marzin, triggering routine confrontations with the same outcome, investigative work undone by operational ineptitude.

Ejiofor, Kidman and Roberts are never less than watchable, but Secret In Their Eyes is a tractionless waste of talent.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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