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Movie Night – 'Secret in Their Eyes' better as rental (Dec. 16, 2015 issue)

Julia Roberts has been absent from the silver screen, or pretty much any other screen, in recent years. The last movie she was in of any consequence was “August: Osage County,” which opened in theaters in 2013. Roberts returns to the big screen with “Secret in Their Eyes.”
The year is 2002 and law enforcement officials from many different agencies and departments are working together for a joint counterterrorism task force in Los Angeles. Ray Karsten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is an FBI counterterrorism investigator reassigned from New York. Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts) is a special investigator for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office and is partnered with Ray to help investigate possible terror threats in L.A. Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman) is a newly-hired assistant district attorney assigned to assist the task force.
Everything is going great at the task force as they track possible terror suspects in L.A., until they get a call about a body near a mosque they have been watching. The body turns out to be Jess’s teenage daughter. She had been brutally raped before being strangled and unceremoniously thrown in a dumpster. Even though Ray is a counterterrorism investigator he begins to investigate the murder on his own. Claire is assigned to prosecute the case if and when they find the killer. Ray and Claire become close before the investigation blows up in their face. Ray leaves the task force and heads back to New York.
Thirteen years later Ray is working in security for the New York Mets, but he hasn’t given up on his search for the murderer. He finds a lead on the killer, takes some time off from his job, and travels back to L.A. where Jess is still an investigator and Claire is the District Attorney. Ray is quickly on the trail of the killer again with the help of some old friends. He won’t give up until he finds the killer.
The story is told alternating between the present when Ray returns to L.A. and a set of intricate flashbacks to the investigation he pursued at all costs thirteen years before. Utilizing flashbacks is not a bad way to tell a story, but “Secret in Their Eyes” needed more differentiation between the two time periods. More characters should have changed their hair or clothes or done something to let the viewer know at all times whether the action is taking place in the present or thirteen years earlier.
The story itself is fairly interesting and well-written except for a few inconsistencies at the end. But the movie is not the drama it’s made out to be, but instead it watches more like a mystery. There’s very little drama and virtually no thrilling scenes. At times the pace of the movie is slow and your attention might wane a bit.
It’s also not a good thing when the title of the movie reveals part of the plot. The title “Secret in Their Eyes” tells you right from the beginning that there’s going to be a secret revealed at the end, almost to the point that you don’t really need to pay attention to the plot closely until the end when the twist is revealed.
Julia Roberts doesn’t play the beautiful woman we have come to expect from her. She is a woman devastated by the loss of her daughter and it shows in her demeanor and the fact that she appears to have worn no makeup for the entire movie. The main character is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Ray Karsten. He may not be devastated by the murder in the same way as Jess, but he is haunted by the murder and can’t forgive himself for what happened.
“Secret in Their Eyes” is certainly not a bad movie. It has a good story and good actors. But in the end there should have been more drama and there was nothing to distinguish it from other movies in the genre. My advice, wait until it becomes a rental.
Grade: B
Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language, and some sexual references.