Blu-ray Review: Secret In Their Eyes

By , Contributor
How do you ensure a movie will be a box office bomb despite the presence of two Oscar winners and an additional Oscar nominee as its three above-the-title stars? For one thing, you title the film as nondescriptly as possible. The source novel by Eduardo Sacheri is called La pregunta de sus ojos, which apparently translates to The Question In Their Eyes. The Oscar-winning 2009 adaptation written and directed by Juan José Campanella was called El secreto de sus ojos, or The Secret In Their Eyes. So maybe it stood to reason that writer-director Billy Ray call his U.S. adaptation simply Secret In Their Eyes. But it's a sucky title, to put a very fine point on it—one that conveys nothing of the film itself, while sounding as generic as anything that might air on the Lifetime Network.

Debuting February 23, 2016 on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD via Universal, Secret In Their Eyes stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Nicole Kidman, and Julia Roberts. Back it November, 2015, it barely scraped its way to $20 million at the U.S. box office. That powerhouse acting trio alone is more than enough to justify viewer interest. Director Ray directs them to excellent performances, especially Roberts—de-glammed to the point of near-unrecognizability. But he doesn't delve deeply enough into the hearts and minds of his tortured characters to justify the crime thriller's near two-hour running time. What might've made a knockout hour on a network television cop show feels unnecessarily protracted. 
 
secret in their eyes ejiofor (380x254).jpg Ray (Ejiofor) is a FBI counter-terrorism investigator who works with newly-appointed District Attorney Claire (Kidman). Working alongside Ray is the DA's investigator Jess (Julia Roberts). The discovery of a young female's raped and murdered body (at a nearby mosque) sets off a series events that will result in a fracture narrative spanning 13 years. The young woman turns out to be Jess' daughter Caroline (Zoe Graham). When Ray suspects, based on a company picnic photo, that the perpetrator may be someone on the inside, he makes it his sole mission to apprehend the killer (despite the case not being handled by CT). The way the flashback/flashforward structure is handled adds confusion to the story, not tension. It doesn't help that the three leads look almost the same in either time period.

Despite the actors' best efforts, we're never really brought into these people's minds as they wile their lives away over this obsession. Actually, Claire is relatively unfazed by the whole ordeal (leaving Kidman with the least to do). But Jess, unable to accept the loss of her child, is permanently wrecked. Roberts has some incredibly raw scenes, but not enough screen time to fully develop her character. Ejiofor suitably conveys Ray's single-minded pursuit; the search for Caroline's killer eventually drives him right out of the FBI and into the private sector as a P.I.

I've not seen the 2009 Argentinian production nor have I read the book. But it's clear even from Billy Ray's thin presentation that plenty of suspense and emotional impact was left untapped. Secret In Their Eyes, terribly unmemorable title and all, is a watchable thriller (despite a disconcerting lack of thrills). But it should've been much more. 
 
secret in their eyes BD (303x380).jpg Universal's Blu-ray presentation? Strikingly good, including the high definition transfer of Danny Moder's dark, shady cinematography. The lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is especially noteworthy, because despite the generally hushed tones the actors speak in throughout, it's never difficult to understand. This is a low-key audio design, including the score by Emilio Kauderer (who co-composed the score for the Argentinian version; having not seen it, I don't know if any of the same cues are repeated). Suffice it to say, the surround channels are utilized sparingly. When Claire's text message vibration buzzed from a rear speaker at one point, it was so realistic I was sure it was my phone.

Special features? The main attraction is the audio commentary by director Billy Ray and producer Mark Johnson. Otherwise, fuhgettaboutit—"Adapting the Story for Today's World" is a two-minute promo, not a featurette, and "Julia Roberts Discusses Her Most Challenging Role" is a slightly more worthwhile three-minute piece (dealing primarily with Roberts' shattering scene in which Jess discovers Caroline's body).

Secret In Their Eyes (the title is so forgettable, I've had to double-check I'm getting it right every time I type it) is available as a Blu-ray Combo Pack that includes a standard DVD and Digital HD copy.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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