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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Secret in Their Eyes 2015 * * 1/2 Stars

Secret in Their EyesDirector: Billy Ray
Year: 2015
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman

Dean Norris has been a working actor for over thirty years. He's not lousy with his craft but when he's in front of the camera, it feels an awful lot like direct-to-video territory. Case in point: Secret in Their Eyes (my latest review) co-stars Norris and highlights Academy Award winner Julia Roberts plus recent nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor. As a remake of 2009's Argentine film with the identical title, "Eyes" is something for the Lifetime channel, a reheated vehicle throwing in two ending twists just for the sheer heck of it. Imagine Zodiac and Mystic River posing as TV movies trimmed down with just enough commercials to fill the two-hour mark. That's the essence of "Eyes" with its systematic grandstanding posing as controlled, Oscar bait.

Based on a novel, produced by Mark Johnson (Rain Man, The Alamo, The Notebook), and featuring every trouper aching to give the performance of the century, Secret in Their Eyes doesn't quite have the scope or production values to garner end-of-the-year awards consideration. That doesn't stop it from taking things way too seriously. The story begins by chronicling FBI investigator Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts). It's just a typical day at the bureau where agents shaken up by the 9/11 tragedy, are on the lookout for relegated, terrorist activity. When Jess and her close-knit partner (Ray Kasten played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) are called over to check out a murder scene (a dead body lies in a dumpster somewhere near FBI headquarters), the victim turns out to be Cobb's teenage daughter (Zoe Graham as Carolyn Cobb). Ejiofor's Ray somehow feels responsible for her death (the film explains why very briefly) and becomes obsessed with finding the killer. He veers from his spy-catching duties and turns into a homicide detective by spending many years on the Internet (looking for pictures of every criminal in the U.S.). In terms of additional casting, Nicole Kidman (Claire Sloan) plays a District Attorney supervisor to Cobb and Kasten. Also, the chameleon-like Alfred Molina does great supporting work as Kidman's persona's principal.

Now during the majority of Secret in Their Eyes, scenes cut back and forth between the years 2002 and present day. The film does this so often and so unnecessarily, I wouldn't know what time period it was had it not been for a few gray hairs on beards and a side character going completely bald. I read somewhere that a critic deemed this thirteen-year flashback fest as causing "Eyes" to constantly lose its tension. I wouldn't say that's the case. However, the hook featured is more of a gimmick than anything else. If I was in charge of editing, I would just shoot the whole darn thing chronologically. It's the same narrative anyway you look at it.

Overall, I don't think of Secret in Their Eyes as a bad film. I mean, I didn't pick up on its gotcha endings and the caliber of acting is at most, adequate (the role Julia Roberts plays isn't much of a stretch for her and Chiwetel Ejiofor emotes to the point where it's overblown). In fact, I'm actually praising "Eyes" for its ability to make you wanna watch it again the minute the credits roll (I started to make a small, mental checklist in my head of all the previous sequences that occurred). Its look and feel however, well that's a different story. What's on screen makes for a conventional, wonted viewing experience. In a sense, director Billy Ray isn't really shooting for the stars. It's more like he's auditioning for an extended contract on USA network. Rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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