Secret In Their Eyes: A competent update of a vastly superior tale of retribution and regret
Hollywood has never been shy about resetting the delicate, glittering jewels of foreign cinema as gaudy showcases for A-list stars.
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s taut 1955 thriller Les Diaboliques was reborn as a hoary 1996 potboiler starring Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani, and Wim Wenders’ seminal meditation of mortality, Wings Of Desire, was saturated in sickly sentiment for the 1998 update City Of Angels starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan.
The smoldering French thriller Anthony Zimmer took on a lacklustre second life as The Tourist pairing Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, while Spike Lee’s remake of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 cult classic Oldboy was an exercise in bludgeoning violence.
When Argentinian writer-director Juan Jose Campanella won the Oscar for his serpentine 2009 thriller El Secreto De Sus Ojos, it was only a matter of time before an English-language version surfaced.
Perhaps we should be grateful that writer-director Billy Ray has waited six years, affording us sufficient time to forget about the jaw-dropping coup de grace that Campanella orchestrated with flair in his picture.
The sturdy structure and hairpin twists remain firmly in place in Secret In Their Eyes, but the original film’s politically charged setting - the volatile period before Argentina’s Dirty War - has been replaced by the paranoia and fear that percolated across America in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
In 2002 Los Angeles, FBI counter-terrorism officer Ray Karsten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) assesses possible threats emanating from a local mosque.
He is called to a crime scene close to the mosque and identifies the raped and mutilated body of a girl in a dumpster as Caroline Cobb (Zoe Graham), the daughter of his good friend, Jessica Cobb (Julia Roberts), who works as an investigator for district attorney Martin Morales (Alfred Molina).
Flanked by his partner Bumpy Willis (Dean Norris), Ray promises Jess that he will apprehend the killer and they identify a comic book-obsessed misfit called Marzin (Joe Cole) as the prime suspect.
Ray and assistant DA Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman) attempt to entrap Marzin, but Morales warns them off because the oddball is a police informant.
“That boy is untouchable. Welcome to the war on terror,” growls the district attorney.
Thirteen years later, Ray identifies a man who he believes is Marzin in disguise.
He reunites with Jess and Claire to solve the case, but reopening old wounds comes at a terrible price.
Unfolding in dual time frames 13 years apart, Secret In Their Eyes is a competent update of a vastly superior tale of retribution and regret.
Ejiofor, Roberts and Kidman are solid in underwritten roles, the latter distinguishing herself in an electrifying interrogation room scene.
A bold final flourish should stun audiences who haven’t had the intense, nerve-racking pleasure of watching the original.