It’s no secret that Secret in Their Eyes is an English-language remake of Juan José Campanella’s far superior Argentinian thriller (and winner of 2010’s Best Foreign Film Oscar) of the same name. Frankly, we wouldn’t be having this discussion were it not for xenophobic Yanks too lazy to work a little for their entertainment by reading subtitles.
A team of FBI agents arrives on the scene to investigate a report that a battered, burned, and bleached corpse was found at the bottom of a trash bin. Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) breaks from the pack and is the first to approach the dumpster. No sooner does he eyeball its contents than his expression flip-flops from seen-it-all steadiness to sobbing disbelief.
Staggering toward Jess (Julia Roberts), Ray collects himself long enough to make eye contact with his partner and whimper, “It’s Carolyn...it’s your daughter.”
As opposed to Carolyn her acupuncturist or dog-groomer? If Jess did indeed have a daughter named Carolyn, why the need to blatantly spell out their blood relation? Other than movie characters with a plot to advance, who talks like this? Even if the scene ended without knowing the victim’s kinship — a subsequent photo of mother and daughter in Roberts’s apartment would have done the trick — it’s clear from her reaction that she and the victim were extremely close.
Secret in Their Eyes
Could it be writer-director Billy Ray doesn’t have the slightest bit of faith in an audience’s ability to grasp even the slightest nuance?
As evidenced in his last three projects, screenwriter Ray is an old stager when it comes to that time-honored tradition of dumbing-down foreign films for the American market. He had a hand in bringing the British television series State of Play to a multiplex near you; The Hunger Games is little more than an uncredited ripoff of Kinji Fukasaku’s fun-filled Battle Royale; and everything one needed to know about Captain Phillips was rigorously covered in Tobias Lindholm’s A Hijacking.
Like its namesake, Secret relies on a series of intricate flashbacks, the narrative constantly, often confusingly, jumping between 2002 and 2015, with 9/11 an obvious substitute for Argentina’s “dirty war.” The trailer fans the aroma of Death Wish, but my regret commenced with the realization that Roberts wasn’t going to go full-vigilante in her quest to take out the trash that brutalized her baby girl. It might have made for a better picture, seeing how Roberts and Joe Cole — as the killer/persuasively scuzzy aggressor — are the film’s two acting highlights. Those expecting miracles from the generally forcible Ejiofor (Redbelt, 12 Years a Slave) will soon discover he never should have copped to a thriller.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Hollywood was in the habit of releasing both dubbed and subtitled versions of foreign films. (Bergman’s Cries and Whispers never sounded better!) Here’s a tip on how to spare Hollywood millions in production costs. Next time, save money by releasing an alternate dubbed version. Trust me, 90 percent of the clientele would never know the difference.