Remakes. Critics have always had a problem with them, on principle alone. And I admit, I’ve sometimes fallen into this remake hate – although whether or not I’m a ‘critic’ is debatable. I’ve jumped onto ‘f*ck remakes’ bandwagons and cruelly compared remakes to their far superior originals. But why? 9 times out of 10, it’s obvious that a remake isn’t going to top the original. But sometimes, it just isn’t worth comparing them because the remake may stand pretty well by itself – making you forget that it’s a remake in the first place. The new Secret in Their Eyes is an example of this.
Based on the Academy Award-winning El secreto de sus ojos, Secret in Their Eyes was unfairly compared to its source upon release. The Wikipedia page for the film even summarises the critical reception by saying critics ‘praised its performances but compared it unfavourably to the original’. But for this review, we’re going to completely ignore the fact it’s a remake. From the next few paragraphs, El secreto de sus ojos does not exist.
Out now on DVD & Blu-ray, Secret in Their Eyes is a chilling story of obsession and revenge taking place in two timeframes. In the past, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Jess (Julia Roberts) and Bumpy (Dean Norris) are 3 friends working in an FBI counter-terrorism team. When they receive a call that a young unidentified female’s body has been found near a mosque they’ve had under surveillance, they’re not prepared for the grisly discovery they make – the victim is Carolyn, Jess’s teenage daughter. When Jess breaks down, Ray vows to find the killer no matter what. 13 years later, Ray is a broken man still fighting for justice – and when he finds someone he believes to be the killer, he goes to DA and old friend Claire (Nicole Kidman) to plead for the case to be re-opened.
It may sound like a pretty standard thriller, but a number of elements elevate it higher than the mediocre critical reception would have you believe. One thing we can all agree on is that Secret in Their Eyes is crammed full of exceptional performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor is remarkable as Ray, portraying an increasingly unstable obsession in the ‘past’ timeline while becoming a haunted and broken man in the ‘present’. Julia Roberts deserves nothing but praise too as the destroyed Jess, struggling to cope with the loss of her daughter with whom she was ‘inseparable’. Roberts’ mother sadly passed during the production, but the star only took 5 days off before returning to this hard performance of loss – maybe she used her inner pain to authenticate her performance? Dean Norris is great too, pretty much just reprising his role as Hank from Breaking Bad as a wise-cracking but tough-as-nails detective. Joe Cole, who you may recognise from Peaky Blinders, puts in a chillingly uncomfortable performance as the case’s prime suspect. Nicole Kidman is the weak link here, although by no fault of her own – she isn’t given anything interesting to do.
Secret in Their Eyes does have flaws. Of course it does. The film’s messages about terrorism are a little poorly-delivered – it feels like the filmmakers have got something to say, but can’t quite get it out. Sub-plots (such as the office flirting between Ejiofor’s Ray and Kidman’s Claire) are jarring and weaken some of the film’s impact, and some of the timeline switching can be momentarily confusing – especially with only little signs to distinguish them apart, such as greying hair or, in the case of a few characters, loss of hair. But it you stay alert, you shouldn’t have a problem.
These flaws are less significant when they’re surrounded by positives. Bleak cinematography from Danny Moder (Julia Roberts’ husband) makes the underbelly of LA feel like a living breathing monster, while a gorgeously emotive score from Emilio Kauderer (who scored the original) perfectly reflects the film’s themes. The direction from Billy Ray is great, as is his screenplay, making the film engrossing and thrilling throughout.
In this crowded genre, Secret in Their Eyes is not the worst like some critics said. Sure, it isn’t the best either, but it kept me completely engrossed and hooked throughout (even though I have seen the original film that we’re pretending doesn’t exist). I was on the edge of my seat and when it ended, I didn’t feel like it was something I’d seen before. And for a remake to pull that off is a pretty rare feat indeed.
Secret in Their Eyes is by no means perfect. I’m not saying it’s the best remake ever made, nor am I saying that it’s going to change your perception of remakes. But maybe we can all learn to give remakes a go, and just try and enjoy them on their own merits – if they have any.
Secret in Their Eyes is a solid modern thriller and, even if you have seen the original, it should keep you on the edge of your seat until the shocking climax. 4/5.
Secret in Their Eyes at CeX
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