“Secret in Their Eyes,” directed by Billy Ray, provokes questions about the meaning of justice and how far one is willing to go to get closure. The film stars Julia Roberts as Jess, an FBI investigator whose daughter is raped and murdered. Despite the efforts of her co-workers Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Claire (Nicole Kidman), the killer remains elusive.
Thirteen years later, Ray returns with a new lead he thinks will solve the case. While the film, based on the 2009 Argentine film “El Secreto de Sus Ojos,” which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, may not be Oscar-worthy itself, it is a thrilling and unpredictable story that is bound to keep audiences in suspense.
The film flashes through time, following investigators as they discover new information they think will lead them closer to the killer. The time lapses, although occasionally difficult to follow, are nonetheless effective at changing the film’s pace and keeping thedaudience guessing. Clues suddenly lead to one another in too obvious of a sequence, but over time the story is filled out with twists and turns that heighten suspense and engage the viewer. A scene in which Ray and Bump (Dean Norris), chase a suspect through Dodger Stadium is particularly intense.
The team of investigators pushes legal and ethical boundaries as it seeks out the killer, encouraging the viewer to contemplate the meaning of justice and the lengths one should go to achieve it. Ray insists on investigating the case himself, rather than leaving it to the assigned detectives and focusing on his main duties, which focus on counterterrorism.
To complicate matters, Jess wants information about the case that she is not allowed access to. Even though Ray and Jess disobey orders, their commitment to solving the case is understandable, leading to mixed feelings about their motives. The characters become increasingly frustrated as higher-ups refuse to approve further investigations, which pushes them to try and take matters into their own hands and provokes moral dilemmas.
The themes of passion and obsession — and the line between the two — take center stage in “Secret in Their Eyes.” Jess and Ray’s obsession with the crime takes over their lives. Ray spends years scouring databases with criminals’ pictures in search of the killer, while Jess spends every night at a restaurant with the hopes of encountering him.
We are ultimately pushed to contemplate if the team’s obsession with the case will be effective in helping the characters achieve closure. The viewer may also wonder if Ray’s obsession has caused him to become paranoid and to follow false leads, and Jess and Ray begin to have disagreements over the case.
Similarly, Ray is enamored with Claire, despite the fact that she is with another man. His passion for her mirrors his desire to solve the case. However, these thematic connections would have added more depth to the film had they been more subtle, especially considering that at one point Jess explicitly mentions to Ray the significance of passion in their lives.
“Secret in Their Eyes” invites the viewer to become obsessed with discovering the truth just like the characters, all while inspiring thought-provoking moral questions. Although at times the thematic and narrative elements of the film can be too blatant and contrived, “Secret in Their Eyes” is nevertheless an admirable attempt at a genuine suspense film, which comes as a welcome surprise.
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