When I first saw the trailer for this movie, there were two things that struck me: the first was that the title was really clunky, so I wondered if it was a direct translation of a foreign movie, and was then a remake. The second thought was that this looked like a acting-powerhouse movie, that was going to be very slow, but had the potential for a really interesting story.
First, yes, it absolutely is a remake of El Secreto de Sus Ojos, the 2009 Argentinian Academy Award winning movie. In that movie, a retired lawyer writes a novel hoping to find closure for one of his past unresolved homicide cases and for his unrequited love with his superior – both of which haunt him decades later.
Having not seen the original, I can’t tell you how close the new one is. I can tell you that the lead was meant for a man, but has been rewritten by director/screenwriter Billy Ray to allow Julia Roberts to play the lead, and she requested Nicole Kidman play the other female lead role.
In this version, the movie jumps back and forth from 2002 to 2015, with only the hairstyles attempting to let you know what is a flashback and what is current – it’s a little confusing. In 2002, an FBI agent (Ray Kasten) and a L.A. cop (Jess Cooper) are working in a counter-terrorism unit under the D.A. They are basically sitting on a local mosque that is believed to be a hotbed of potential terrorism that closely after 9/11. Kasten gets a little swoony over the new assistant D.A., Claire. They get a call that there’s a body in a dumpster by the mosque, and upon arrival, they learn that it is Jess’s daughter, Carolyn.
She’s been raped and murdered, and bleached so that no evidence was left behind. They pull surveillance video, and strongly suspect “PacMan Marzin”, who unfortunately is also a major informant on the ongoings of the sleeper cell in the mosque. This leads the D.A. to push their investigation away from Marzin, because it’s believed he will help them catch ‘bigger fish’, making him somewhat ‘untouchable’ for the time being. After pulling him in, and learning he is guilty – Ray and Claire are forced to let him go, and Jess struggles to stay sane. The storyline in 2015 picks up with Ray returning to L.A. – apparently after Marzin was let go, he went back to New York. He tells Claire, who is now the D.A., and Jess that he has found Marzin again – and wants them to reopen the case. I won’t go into any further details as to what happens, because it is very interesting and I will let you watch to find out.
Director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Breach), gives the movie a very eerie and hopeless quality. I’m not sure the jumping of time was clearly communicated, especially since only the hairstyles were the indication for the time difference (Dean Norris and Michael Kelly in wigs = 2002; Dean Norris and Michael Kelly bald = 2015). It was cut together in a very jumpy style – but I found it to be effective. You saw more of the story from 2002 as pieces fell together in 2015. The movie was slow, with very little action, so be sure you’re not sleepy when you go see it. The cast was exceptional.
- Everyone knows how outstanding Chiwetel Ejiofor is by now. He’s fantastic, and is truly amazing in this. His reaction as he realizes who is in the dumpster was enough to bring me to tears and his solid dedication to finding out what happened to Carolyn over the years so that Jess can have some peace turns into a simmering obsession. I will say that the romance that is hinted at between his character and Kidman’s never really develops. It stays unrequited, with both of them acknowledging it, but neither doing anything. Perhaps that was the point? It did give him the confidence that he could go to Claire for assistance on his obsession with the case.
- Nicole Kidman does a good job –especially in the sequence where she stops Ray from interrogating Marzin and shifts to interrogating him herself – she was so devious in that moment, it makes up for her wooden-ness throughout the rest of the movie.
- I have never seen Julia Roberts quite this good – and I am not a Julia Roberts fan, so if I'm telling you she's good - I mean it! As Jess – the moment when she first learns of her daughter’s death, and then attempts to process that, is absolutely heartbreaking. From that point forward, her slow decline into madness is interesting – but then the transition back from that madness in the 2015 sequence is also fascinating, as she seems to have made peace with everything, and almost gets upset with Ray for bringing a subject she has already attempted to assimilate.
- Dean Norris from Breaking Bad and Under the Dome plays Bumpy Willis (yes, Bumpy). He’s another cop that helps you tell the flashbacks by his hair. He helps Ray chase down his suspect both in 2002 and 2015.
- Alfred (“Throw me the idol, I’ll throw you the whip!”) Molina plays the D.A. in 2002 who is Claire’s supervisor. He’s shady, but only because he thinks he’s doing the right thing for his job – but still – super shady.
- Michael Kelly plays Reg Siefert, and is another actor you’ve seen everywhere. Siefert is the cop who is getting information on the sleeper cell from Marzin, and is the one who most tries to derail Ray’s investigation.
- Joe Cole plays Marzin and really is absolutely creepy as hell.
Overall, the movie is very interesting, exceptionally well-acted, but very slow. It’s the nature of the story and the craft. It actually was shot as an R, but was edited to a PG13, based on Cole’s performance, and the disturbing images of the crime – I am grateful that they went with the PG13 cut – I think any more would have been way too much.
I will say that even after seeing the whole movie, instead of just the trailer, I still wanted it to be a little more action, less drama. I won’t tell you what does happen, but here’s what I wanted to happen:
It could have started the same way, with Ray and Jess finding her daughter’s body. I would have removed the ‘sleeper cell’ subplot, and instead, would have simply had it that they did not have enough evidence to make a case, and Claire couldn’t help them without the evidence. Then, Marzin goes off the grid, and Jess quits the force. When we catch up to Ray in 2015, I would have him go back to Claire with files, explain how he’s been looking for Marzin for 13 years, and keeps finding dead rapists – every time he closes in on a possible suspect, he finds them executed.
Eventually, he and Claire learn that Jess has been hunting Marzin as well, executing any rapist she comes across who has not been prosecuted due to a ‘lack of evidence’. Throw in a couple of scenes of a badass vigilante Julia Roberts hunting and brutally killing these rapists. Then we would get a couple of awesome chase sequences as Claire and Ray try to get to Marzin before Jess, so that they can prosecute before she executes him. There would be some sort of final climactic action sequence as Ray and Jess get to Marzin at the same time, and while they argue – Ray that he needs to be prosecuted, Jess that he needs to be killed – Ray decides he is going to let Jess kill Marzin, and then he would tell Claire that both Marzin and Jess are now dead, so that Jess can just disappear. It would have just provided a little more action, and allowed Julia to stretch just a bit more. Plus – nothing better than seeing the bad guys get it.
6 out of 10 – well executed, but a little slow. Gained points for Chiwetel slowing descending into obsessive madness, lost points for the unrequited love between Ray and Claire, which again, could also be gained points as it was unusual to have that no go anywhere…usually in movies it does go somewhere. Gained points for Roberts’s performance, and for Jess eventually getting justice. Slight spoiler there.
Bonus Video 1: I tried to think of my favorite Julia Roberts movie…I’m not even sure I have one, I really don’t care for her – but I did like the Pelican Brief, so I’m going to count that one.
Bonus Video 2: Dead Calm – This is an old one where Billy Zane terrorizes Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews