Secret in Their Eyes is a parallel narrative of three people from an anti-terrorism organization. The movie has two timelines set 13 years apart, which both revolve around a murder and pursuit of the killer. Jess (Julia Roberts) and Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are called to look into a murder nearby a mosque that they have been surveilling, only to discover that the victim is Jess’ teenage daughter. With the case being closely knit to the suspects being monitored, the DA (Alfred Molina) tries to shelve the case in order to prevent sabotaging operations at the mosque. But Ray, who holds himself partly responsible for not being able to protect Jess’ daughter, takes it upon himself to find the killer. With personal agendas, relationships and politics at play, the case only keeps getting buried deeper. Thirteen years after the death, Ray finds evidence and returns to reopen the case and find closure for Jess and himself.
With the movie being a mystery/thriller, it's hard to say that the previous paragraph aptly describes the story. Without giving out spoilers, all I can say is that it does have an unpredictable end. But what makes a mystery good is if the end is worth waiting for. Unfortunately, the 100 minutes you spend waiting to know what happens to the killer, feels just like the 13 years it took Ray to find him.
The A-list cast seems unnecessarily squeezed in. I literally tried to re-imagine the complete story sans Nicole Kidman, and except for one scene where she confronts the killer (which is great), the complete story stays unchanged. Julia Roberts doesn’t disappoint, but then again, she hardly has any screen presence (as the mother of the victim she isn’t allowed to be involved in the investigation). Chiwetel Ejiofor, who almost won the Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, is quite certainly not going to get it with his 13 year wait in Secret in Their Eyes.
A bigger disappointment for me was when I realized that the director of this movie, Billy Ray is the same guy who wrote Captain Phillips. The movie certainly raises a question on his directorial skills, evident from the badly executed parallel narrative. With the locations, scenario and people being the same in each narrative, the color of hair or absence of it are the only things that help determine what timeline’s currently occurring. I would probably also blame the editor Jim Page. As if the switching in between the timelines wasn’t painful enough, the scenes tend to get long, slow and boring. This is a movie that would definitely have benefited from some heavy chopping.
Secret in Their Eyes seems like an attempt to turn a good story into a shabby star studded vehicle that sadly underperforms. I look forward to seeing the original version; hopefully I can find a copy at the library. I advise you do the same.
Grade : B-