Secret in Their Eyes ✮1/2
The advance publicity surrounding “Secret in Their Eyes” suggests a Julia Roberts vehicle with Roberts bent on vigilante justice. Wrong, on both counts. Roberts and Nicole Kidman turn out to be key supporting players; Chiwetel Ejiofor of “12 Years a Slave” is the real star of this murder mystery-conspiracy thriller adapted from “The Secret in Their Eyes,” the 2009 Spanish-Argentinean Oscar winner. Ejiofor plays a homicide detective-turned-homeland security investigator-turned-preoccupied former FBI agent.
Don’t feel lonely. Portions of this meandering U.S. remake feel like they were applied with old plaster and trowel. Nothing sticks, or makes much sense. Obviously writer-director Billy Ray, known primarily as the screenwriter of “Captain Phillips” and the first “ Hunger Games,” was taken with the original film’s shocking twist ending, and, with that as his ace-in-the-hole, so speak, he set about to adapt the material to post-9/11 Los Angeles.
That, in itself, would be OK. But Ray botches things badly when attempting to replicate Juan José Campanella’s tricky flashback structure. Ray’s thriller plays out on two timelines, 13 years apart. The film opens in the present with agent Ray Kasten (Ejiofor) returning to his old stomping grounds — to find Jess Cobb (Roberts) now a sunken-eyed cop on the beat and Claire Sloan (Kidman), the unrequited love of his life, now an easily distracted District Attorney.
From here we flash back to 2002, where all three, in different capacities, are tied to counter-terrorism efforts and a D.A. (Alfred Molina) who has vowed that L.A. won’t become “the next 9/11.” Confounding their efforts is the murder of Cobb’s teenage daughter. (No spoiler alert necessary: This is in the trailer.) Her killer also happens to be a valued government snitch, infiltrating some vague but assuredly nefarious doings at a nearby mosque. (No effort is made here to distinguish good from bad Muslim worshipers.)
Guess what government entity drags its feet when the guilt-ridden Kasten makes it his life’s mission to do Cobb a solid and apprehend her daughter’s killer?
This contrivance alone would sink an otherwise sound cop thriller. The star-heavy, promising sounding “Secrets,” sadly, is anything but sound, thanks mainly to its unrelentingly dour tone and the confusion caused by flitting back and forth between near-indistinguishable decades. Initially, it’s tough to figure out what decade we’re in because, in terms of fashion and set design, there’s little to distinguish 2002 from 2015. Eventually it becomes clear — by concentrating on the lengths of Roberts’ and Kidman’s hair, the pronounced limp of Kasten’s former partner (well-played by “Breaking Bads’ ” Dean Norris), and the touch of gray at Ejiofor’s temple.
But by then we’ve ceased caring and are left to ponder the mounting procedural blunders (there’s no such thing as a protected crime scene) and the solid-to-stolid performances by the three stars and handful of supporting players, which include Michael Kelly (“House of Cards”) as a department a-hole and Joe Cole as the young murder suspect with, of course, a near-unintelligible Middle Eastern accent.
“Secret” unravels well before Cole’s can play his winning card, the trick ending. No matter. It was already spoiled by last year’s much better “Prisoners.”
Secret in Their Eyes ✮1/2 With Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Alfred Molina, Joe Cole. Directed, scripted by Billy Ray from “El secreto de sus ojos.” 127 min. PG-13 (for profanity, violence, adult subject matter)