That remakes are generally pointless seems to be the corollary of this latest attempt at redoing a foreign-language film for domestic American consumption. That said remake is still a perfectly decent, solid piece of work, while remaining pointless, is in itself worth pointing out - even if it's highly unlikely that Secret in Their Eyes will ever be as fondly remembered as the original film, 2010's foreign-language film Oscar winner from Argentina. Yet, writer/director Billy Ray is smart enough to maintain the complicated emotional threads of Juan Jose Campanella's original mostly intact while making it relevant to our days of security paranoia.
The heart of the film remains a former official's obsession with an unsolved case dating back years, leading him to reconnect with the prosecutor who dealt with the affair at the time to reopen it after new information comes up. Here, the retired official is a former police detective (Chiwetel Ejiofor) from the hardscrabble streets of Brooklyn, and the prosecutor a junior DA transplant from tony Philadelphia (Nicole Kidman); the cold case involves not the murder of a woman, as in the original, but that of a young woman who happened to be the daughter of an FBI agent (Julia Roberts). The remake takes place in present day Los Angeles instead of 1990s Buenos Aires, changing the timing of the cold case from the unstable Argentina of the 1970s to the first few weeks immediately after 9/11 - a smart update that maintains the moral undertones of the plot, asking whether the greater picture justifies the personal sacrifice.
That the romantic obsession present in the plot survives almost intact is the first credit to Mr. Ray's thoughtful update; the second is the reliance on a cast that has form in this kind of serious roles. But there is also a loss in the process. What was so rewarding in Mr. Campanella's film was its shape-shifting qualities - the sense you were watching a chaste, complex love story developing under the guise of a detective thriller with a political angle. Secret in Their Eyes, on the other hand, resolves itself into a political thriller with a strong whiff of seventies throwback and a love story on the side. In that, it can't help but lose something of what made the original special, a loss compounded by the lack of chemistry between a glacial Ms. Kidman and an earnest Mr. Ejiofor. It's not enough to throw Secret in Their Eyes in the waste basket as a write-off, since regardless of its affiliation this remains a well-made, well-crafted adult thriller that would have been a solid mid-range studio film in earlier times. But, for all the intelligence that Mr. Ray has brought to the task, this will never escape comparisons to its original, and on that level it simply can't rise to the standard.
SECRET IN THEIR EYES
US, Spain, South Korea, UK, 2015, 111 minutes
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Michael Kelly, Joe Cole, Zoe Graham, Alfred Molina
Directed and written by Billy Ray; based on the screenplay by Juan José Campanella and Eduardo Sacheri for Mr. Campanella's film The Secret in Their Eyes; cinematographer Danny Moder (widescreen); music by Emilio Kauderer; production designer Nelson Coates; costume designer Shay Cunliffe; film editor Jim Page; produced by Mark Johnson and Matt Jackson, for Gran Via Productions, SITE Productions, Willie's Movies and Moot Point Productions in association with Route One Entertainment, Union Investment Partners, Ingenious Media and Elipsis Capital
Screened November 13th 2015 at NOS Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon