Secret in their eyes is a real thriller and horror story marked by obsessions, compulsions, and over-reactions. It opens in the present, but now and then goes back 12 years to a time when Ray (Ejiofor), Jess (Roberts), Claire (Kidman), Siefert (Kelly), Bumpy (Norris) and D.A. Morales (Molina) all worked in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. At that time, the daughter of Jess was brutally murdered, and although much effort was put into finding the killer, they were unsuccessful.
Ray and Jeff and her daughter were good friends, and unbeknownst to anyone else, he spent the 12 years looking at police mug shots in hopes of finding the perp. He is convinced that the man was a guest at one of their office picnics where a group picture was taken, but no one in the office admits to knowing him much less inviting him. Ray’s persistence and intimidation eventually yields a name, Marzin (Joe Cole) and although Ray has only come back as an FBI contractor to seek out terrorists, he talks the present #2 person in the office, Claire, into allowing him to do police work on the case on the QT.
Nevertheless he runs into major resistance by Kelly and Morales who are using Marzin as an informer. The time is shortly after the 9/1/1 terrorist attack, and they are convinced that Marzin has a major lead into a second planned attack.
Obsessed, Ray continues to pursue Marzin and convinces Claire and Jess that he is the one. An interrogation of Marzin by Ray and Claire (a horrific and hilarious interchange) seems to yield a confession. But the plot is just heating up. Morales gets word of their undercover work and in no uncertain terms makes them let Marzin go free.
After that, there are still fits and starts in the case, but major revelations will ensue that will be shocking. In this respect, Secret in their Eyes is well conceived and it certainly is exciting and interesting. It’s too bad Director Billy Ray and his team did not give more thought to how they portray police work; poor judgment and repeated breaching of professional boundaries on the part of the main characters detracts from the quality of the work. I regarded a couple of items as cheap tricks; namely, lurching back and forth between two time periods rather than proceeding chronologically, making the plot more confusing; and divulging information clearly intended to lead the viewer to a false conclusion.
Moreover, I found the implicit approval of ignoring proper channels for justice objectionable. Those channels and boundaries are based on good judgment and portraying characters as heroic when they go beyond them seems unwise on the part of filmmakers simply for thrills.
Despite the weaknesses in plot, the actors do a superb job in their roles. Roberts’ portrayal of a grieving mother who shows ambivalence in bringing up the case again and her role, if any, in it is finely done. Ejiofor and Kidman are likewise fine individually, but the chemistry between them is so diluted, it’s impossible to see them as having a torch for one another. That part seemed like an add-in because someone thought they needed a romantic touch somewhere. Molina is appropriately terrifying in his portrayal of a man obsessed in preventing any more terrorist attacks, and Kelly and Norris lend major support in their roles.
We could call this a thriller with fine actors; you just need to overlook some flaws in the plot.
Grade: C By Donna R. Copeland