Tuesday 1 December 2015

Secret In Their Eyes (2015) - Movie Review


https://redribbonreviewers.wordpress.com/The big contributor to how and why a lot of actors get typecast into certain roles is that, for better or for worse, said actors work really damn well in those particular roles. Martin Freeman will always be seen as the English everyman who gets thrown into extraordinary circumstances because he has built a healthy pedigree on those roles thanks to The Office and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, among others; Patrick Stewart is the elderly mentor figure for a rag-tag team in a sci-fi setting that is meant to save worlds on numerous occasions; Jai Courtney can’t be anything more than a red flag that the film you’re about to sit through isn’t going to work, etc. That last one may seem unfair, and yeah I have made fun of him a lot more than I probably should, but the fact remains that even real-life events can affect how a person can become typecast. And no, I don’t just mean John McEnroe being irate in every TV and film appearance he’s had. I’m talking more about how Julia Roberts has developed a reputation for more than a little egotistical and kind of crazed, and then the trailer for today’s film shows her as a psychotic breakdown waiting to happen. Sometimes, casting perfectly aligns on certain productions. This is Secrets In Their Eyes.

The plot: On a routine search of a dead body found near a local mosque, FBI agent Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is shocked to discover that the victim is the daughter of his colleague Jess (Julia Roberts). Thirteen years later, Ray thinks that he has found the person responsible (Joe Cole) after he escaped from them last time. However, both Jess and district attorney Claire (Nicole Kidman) doubt that it is really him. As Ray continues to hunt down the culprit, memories and feelings connected to the events all those years ago start to come back up and, in the process, the need for justice may consume them all.

Okay, even with my joking about the casting of Julia Roberts, this is an excellently acted film. Chiwetel Ejiofor is phenomenal, as he translates the character’s obsession and distraught reactions into a powerful performance. Julia Roberts is far more sobering than the rather misleading trailer would have audiences believe, echoing Ejiofor’s drive while channelling her own determination and despair as well. The rest of the cast are very effective as well, with Joe Cole being very unnerving as Marzin, Dean Norris being a good supporting man as Bumpy, Michael Kelly being a complete prick as Reg and Alfred Molina bringing the goods as well as the former DA Morales.

The big chink in the chain, though, is Nicole Kidman, which is honestly surprising. Not because she’s all that great an actress herself, as she has never really impressed in films past. No, this is surprising because she is responsible for easily the best scene in the entire film. When she ends up confronting Marzin herself, it is an amazing thing to witness and I won’t dare spoil why. Outside of that one scene however, she constantly falls behind the rest of the cast in terms of capabilities. This isn’t helped by the fact that, despite being one of the three main characters, she is mostly relegated to being the love interest of Ray. Said romantic subplot is probably the worst handled part of the entire film, as its development is rather poor and its relevance to the overall story is minimal at best.

Beyond just the casting, probably the big thing that kept distracting me while watching the film is how the actors are aged when going from 2002 to 2015; in that, they honestly haven’t. All that has really been done is changing their hair styles: Kidman lets her locks down when she gets older, Norris loses some hair, Ejiofor gets some grey on the sides, etc. I’ll admit that it does enough to make it easy to distinguish between time periods, but it’s still jarring to see how little these people age in thirteen years. After having seen Reese Witherspoon pull it off flawlessly in Wild earlier this year, this feels subpar.

When it comes to the main story, however, this film enters into its strides. While the themes of revenge are well-handled and the characterisation that results from it is portrayed nicely, it works even better when put into the film’s historical context; specifically, the attitudes of the U.S. post-9/11. The plot as shown in 2002 spotlights a police department that sees counter-terrorism as the most important thing in the world, to the point where it is worth defying all other forms of law enforcement in order to preserve. I have maintained that subjectivity is near-impossible in my line of work, because it is essentially built on the idea that everyone is a critic with their own perspectives. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important in other areas, and law enforcement is most certainly one of them.

As we watch Ray, Jess and Claire frantically trying to justify their own actions in terms of bringing Mazrin to justice, it becomes clear that they most certainly are not looking out for justice anymore; they want bloody satisfaction. Considering what measures are being taken by the higher-ups in order to protect their snitch who could bring down a sleeper cell operating in the nearby mosque, it’s not that difficult to draw a similar conclusion. Of course, while the two ideas work great as parallels, things start to become muddled once they intersect. It is an extremely uncomfortable question to ponder if it is worth protecting a murderous rapist to bring down a cell that could potentially kill hundreds, if not thousands, and I most certainly won’t try and do so here. I may have been getting too political of late, but even I know when to step down from my soap-box. At this stage, I’ll just leave it at how almost anything can become justified once something becomes personal and this film does a great job of portraying that.

All in all, my opinion on this might be helped by my unfamiliarity with the original Argentinian film of the same name. However, given the ideological differences between the settings of the two films, I have enough reason to think that this film can stand on its own and it damn well does. The acting is outstanding, with even Nicole Kidman being given a chance to shine which she takes full advantage of, the atmosphere is thick with intrigue and tragedy, and the writing not only works in the moment as a study into the want for revenge and its more political implications, but it carries enough subtleties to work on a Fridge Brilliance level as well.

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