‘Secret in their Eyes’ should have remained a secret

What It’s About

A turgid, disjointed and unconvincing crime drama, “Secret in their Eyes” is about the human toll of unspeakable tragedy and the desire for vengeance.

The procedural story, clumsily directed by Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”) moves back and forth, between 2002, when Jess’ (Julia Roberts) teenage daughter is brutally murdered, and present day.

After the murder 13 years ago, a lack of hard evidence and unfortunate circumstances result in the suspect going free. He is a Muslim from Eastern Europe, who was helping LAPD by hanging around a jihadist mosque.

This doesn’t sit well with a close-knit team of investigators, who were part of a counter-terrorism unit post-9/11 in Los Angeles.

Cut to today, and former FBI agent Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who moved away to become New York Mets head of security, has uncovered new evidence. Haunted by the crime and botched case, he returns to re-open the investigation.

But there is a matter of unrequited love to intrude on the murder case, too, which is not only far-fetched but a distraction.

Based on the Oscar-winning 2009 Argentinian film, “The Secret in Their Eyes,” this American version suffers in comparison.


Julia Roberts’ name may be above the marquee, but this is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s movie. The Oscar nominee for “12 Years a Slave” is a strong screen presence, but the scenes with Nicole Kidman as statuesque beauty Claire, the one who got away, are ridiculous.

Kidman, whose plastic surgery or botox or whatever she’s had done, makes her face inexpressive, is not believable as a District Attorney who had feelings for Ray. There is not one iota of sexual tension or chemistry between the pair. This alone sinks the film.

Oscar winner Roberts, de-glammed and drab, is impressive as the mother whose deep sorrow at losing her daughter has turned her into a shell of a human being, her sallow complexion and dead eyes a sad reminder of what was taken away.

Alfred Molina chews the scenery as the earlier District Attorney whose priority is city security after 9/11, no matter what else needs attention.

What Works

Roberts howls with grief after seeing her daughter’s lifeless body, and it’s a powerful, raw, heartbreaking scene. It reminds us of her gifts as an actress, and that she’s always been more than a pretty woman.

The movie had me guessing until midway, when it started going off the tracks.

What Doesn’t Work

The plot becomes more contrived as the mystery unravels, and its twist ending is not shocking.

A few scenes border on ludicrous, as in the suspect riding the same elevator as the grieving mom, Claire and Ray. And an Eastern European immigrant would be a die-hard Dodgers’ fan with extensive knowledge of the team’s history?

The gray line between justice and revenge is a fascinating one to explore, only this movie isn’t as satisfying as it could have been, especially given its pedigree and cast.

Secret in their Eyes’

  • DIRECTOR: Billy Ray
  • CAST: Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Dean Norris, Alfred Molina, and Joe Cole.
  • Rated PG-13 (thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references)
  • 111 minutes