Take a Sip: every time Ray gets tongue tied around Claire.
Take a Sip: every time a character predicts the actions of another character.
Take a Sip: every time Ray screws up handling the case.
Take a Sip: we get reminded how attractive Claire is supposed to be.
Take a Sip: every time Jess loses it.
Do a Shot: every time a cell phone disrupts a conversation.
By: The Cinephiliac (Five Beers) –
It’s over, hallelujah! Secret in Their Eyes is over! Watching The Secret in Their Eyes felt like sitting through a Law & Order episode. It wishes it was Law & Order: SVU in its prime when Benson and Stabler reigned supreme before Stabler’s family life crumbled (spoiler alert), but The Secret in Their Eyes is more like a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode made in the past year.
It’s one of those films that knows its story could have wrapped up in about 30 minutes or less, so to combat the loss of steam that inevitably happens, director Billy Ray and editor Jim Page fill in the time with painfully slow moments and lots of padding throughout the story as we watch what happens when a group of FBI agents are called into a murder scene. Surprise and horror ensue when the victim turns out to be the daughter of Jess (Julia Roberts), one of the agents. The suspect of the murder gets away to their dismay, leading fellow agent Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to spend the next 13 years of his life obsessively sifting through mugshots in hopes of finding the suspect and bring justice to the case. This unfolds a litany of annoying situations and repetitive flashbacks in the process.
I know, I’m sorry I had to watch it too…
Holy star-studded cast, Batman! It’s kind of annoying at first how many familiar faces littered the screen throughout Secret in Their Eyes, but the payoff is the guarantee of great performances. And boy do they bring on the intensified water works. Personally, I wouldn’t consider myself a Julia Roberts fan mostly because her role choices land her in films that don’t pique my interest or that I can live without having seen. However, I can’t deny the powerful talent she possesses. Roberts is fantastic as the broken down mom living a life of grief after the death of her daughter. Ray’s adapted screenplay gives Roberts and Ejiofor room to teeter between a wide range of emotions, prompting buckets of tears and lots of yelling.
This much emotional freedom throughout the totality of the film starts to display just how easy it is to overdo it. Don’t let the thriller aspect fool you, Secret in Their Eyes is a downright melodrama. This is the type of film my mother would binge-watch on The Lifetime Movie Network on a Saturday during their “killer on the loose” block. There’s so much crying and screaming throughout Secret in their Eyes that you’d think you were watching Revolutionary Road. The use for melodramatics gets exhausting after a while, making it easy to get desensitized to any emotion within the film.
One of the many elements of this film I despised most was the forced romantic relationship between Claire and Ray. Even Jess gripes about the inclusion of a relationship angle, saying “Christ, the unrequited office love story” and asking if could it be any more predictable. So it’s out there, we all know it’s unnecessary and synthetic, but still for the next hour and half of the film the narrative constantly forces this element into the story.
Claire and Ray are awkward around each other, never quite grasping a realistic sexual tension or chemistry. Instead, they have a clumsy connection void of any real feeling other than that they are supposed to like each other. Ray has the hots for Claire because she’s the slender, attractive new woman in the office who wears skirts and shear button-up blouses. Meanwhile, her feeble attraction to Ray seems only to exist because he likes her, making any development that is attempted feel awkward and unbelievable. All the while Jess just cannot stop bringing the whole thing up as if we didn’t know the two had a “thing” for each other.
“Now, I’m just gonna put my arm here… and yeah. Hug.”
Another one of my least favorite elements is how the story gets told through the eyes of the main characters as opposed to possessing an objective series of events. The evidence against the suspected killer is all circumstantial. Secret in Their Eyes carousels around with Ray having a hunch with credulous certainty, getting told by his comrades that he can’t pursue the case not only because it’s not his case or even his department, but because none of his evidence is credible, then proceeding to continuously fudge up every single chance of investigating that he gets.
Despite this, we are still led to believe the suspect is the killer. Even flashbacks that show the murder in muddled bits and pieces can’t be trusted because the details are never revealed. The suspect never formally confesses, the case isn’t properly examined or handled, no warrants are received, and even during an interrogation scene Ray tells the culprit what HE thinks happened, which is what we get shown, but these thoughts are never conclusive as to what actually took place. If this film was smart it would have let the team’s desire for justice and how it gets in the way of legitimate facts and evidence be the theme of the film. Unfortunately, this is not the intention.
As mentioned earlier, the obvious elephant in the room of Secret of Their Eyes is that its story isn’t a complex one and could have been wrapped up in about a television block’s worth of time. Even still, it gets stretched out by moments of poor character development and padding. Billy Ray constantly lingers on the sad faces and silent pauses between characters and he forces viewers to endure lots of fumbling of words, his heavy use of flashbacks, and too much time wasted on facial reactions.
It’s a shame I didn’t see the original Argentinean film first, because from what I hear it’s a masterpiece. Usually American remakes barely scratch the surface of greatness of the original film. The Secret in Their Eyes lacks any true value or ingenuity and I’ll put money on saying that it’s likely a disgrace to the original. It lacked the ability to keep me entertained or even empathetic to the character’s struggles and attempts to find the killer. It’ll probably take me 13 years to forget that I saw this movie, though I wish I could have forgotten it the minute the credits started rolling.