Among the many films that slipped through the cracks last year was Secret in Their Eyes, a remake of the 2009 Argentinian Oscar-winner of the same name. Actually, the original is El secreto de sus ojos, which a sane person might translate as THE Secret in Their Eyes, but even inclusion of the the makes for a clunky title. See, it’s not that each eye has a secret or anything — that would be Secrets, plural, in Their Eyes. Obviously the title tells us that there is a single secret, okay, and it’s in multiple eyes. Or maybe just one eye per person. The major reason this film failed at the box office and slid under the radar of pretty much everyone is that the title fails to delineate exactly which eyes we’re dealing with here.
Maybe it’s a part of the long game, though, this being the start of a new shared-universe franchise or something. Next up is Secret in Their Left Eyes, follow by Right, followed of course by Left v. Right: Dawn of Secret. Each of those would be hard-pressed to be a bigger waste of time than this film, and the possibilities really are endless if your only criteria for titling a major motion picture starring three Hollywood A-listers is “must contain words”. As Louis C.K. said about parents being giving free reign to name their babies whatever the hell they want: shouldn’t there be at least a couple of rules? What’s that you say? The Elements of Style came out in 1920?
Julia Roberts stars as Jess, a counter-terrorism investigator with eyes who endures an unimaginable tragedy when her only daughter is found murdered. Helping her through is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Ray, a loyal co-agent who has a moral crisis in his felt responsibility for the capture of the perpetrator. He’s sort of the heart of the film, or at least he would be if the film was called Secret in Their Hearts. Rounding out the core three is Nicole Kidman as District Attorney Claire, who sort of has nothing to do with the plot and just flirts with Ray the whole time.
The film is split between two time periods that relentlessly alternate back and forth and back and forth until you’ve completely lost track of which is which. Usually we get a change in hair or some sort of indication of whether we’re watching Just-Found-Her-Murdered-Daughter Jess or That-Was-A-Dozen-Years-Ago-But-It-Still-Hurts Jess. I’m lucky if I notice a haircut on someone I see on a regular basis, so a single bang out of place on the forehead of Julia Roberts just isn’t enough to represent the passage of twelve years. In any case, the future and past are bridged by the notion that these people kept searching for this killer despite the case being officially closed. They look really hard but every time they think they see him they have to squint and wipe the secret out of their eyes and by then he’s long gone.
It’s clear what director Billy Ray
Cyrus was going for with the tone of the film, namely an uninspired cross between Prisoners and Gone Girl. Ray has none of the palette control of Denis Villeneuve or David Fincher, nor is Secret written by anyone with a truly edgy pen like Aaron Guzikowski or Gillian Flynn. Strong as the performances may be given the utter lack of interesting material, the whole thing amounts to something more akin to a cop TV show than an actual movie. In TV terms this is True Detective, sure, but it’s this one (not this one).
It doesn’t help matters that the film has zero idea what to do at the ending. Turns out Jess has been holding her daughter’s killer hostage in a barn for all of these years, feeding him daily but allowing him no other form of joy or human contact. Ray finds out (exclaiming “so that’s what that secret in your eyes was!”) and opts to protect Jess after encouraging her to just murder the guy already, which they communicate wordlessly because they do not have any secrets in their mouths. One wonders if the script simply says they agree on murder by way of a quick glance. These people are the protagonists, by the way. Now Ray has the secret in his eyes, too, and so now Claire will probably notice that as she flirts with him because if people can discern the passage of more than a decade by a slightly-different hairstyle then they can sure as hell tell when you’ve just murdered a longtime hostage. But instead the movie just ends right there, the gunshot still ringing as the credits begin.
But, hey! We can expect big things from the Secret in Their Eyes Cinematic Universe. Ray’s secret in his eyes will become so uncontrollable that he’s able to weaponize it like Cyclops from X-Men, blasting secret all over the place. Claire, left out of the main secret by the people she thought would trust her, goes looking for kicks on the secret black market and ends up starring in the porn parody Secrete in Their Eyes. Jess becomes an optometrist.