Director: Billy Ray
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Alfred Molina
Running Time: 111 minutes
Release Date: February 26th
Cinema evolves by way of a back and forth between creative minds operating in different environments, and not necessarily within the exact same medium. One such example is how the thriller genre advanced over the past four decades. Don Siegel made Dirty Harry in 1971. John Woo decided to make a Hong Kong version, better known as Hardboiled, released in 1992. Then, Quentin Tarantino, heavily influenced by Woo during the writing of Reservoir Dogs, paid tribute to him, whilst also reassessing the American crime drama upon falling in love with Hong Kong directors such as Wong Kar Wai and Ringo Lam, alongside Japan’s Kenji Fukasaku, and Toshiya Fujita. Promoting and taking films like Chungking Express and Battle Royale to the States, this impact was huge. Hollywood began hiring Asian directors, J-Horror remakes became the new fad, and eventually, franchises like The Hunger Games ended up on the big screen.
Snowballing is essential to the advance of a medium, and right now, one can see how the New Golden Age of Television has heavily impacted cinema. Without Mad Men, Jay Roach’s Trumbo would have a very different aesthetic. Triple 9 intended to capitalize on the global success of a plethora of shows produced by HBO, and AMC, and now, ‘Secret in their Eyes’ has come out, bearing all the hallmarks of a Scandinavian thriller series and, closer to home, True Detective.
From Breaking Bad to The Sopranos, these past few years of quality television could not have existed in such a form were it not for the work of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Andrew Lau and Alan Mac. Yet, now it would seem the big crime dramas are imitating television, once a cheap form of entertainment, and today the pinnacle of visual storytelling.
Written and directed by Billy Ray, who adapted the first Hunger Games script (although technically Kenji Fukasaku and Koushun Takami should be given credit here), Secret in their Eyes is another thriller, with politically charged overtones. Based around the brutal rape and murder of a young woman, the story follows Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the head of security at Citi Field stadium in New York. A former member of the Counter-Terrorism Joint Task Force, in the present he obsesses over this woman’s murder, since she was the daughter of a former colleague and friend, Jess, played by Julia Roberts.
Attempting to track down the man he is certain committed the crime, a significant breakthrough motivates him to travel back to his old workplace, and alert his ex-co-workers as to this discovery. Fighting to convince them, at this point, the story jumps back to January of 2002 (four months after 9-11) when he was trailing a potential radical jihadist cell operating out of a local mosque. However, when the body of Jess’ daughter is found in a dumpster next to this holy construct, Ray’s need to solve this mystery blurs the lines between counter-terrorism and detective work. Capable of justifying this as part of the War on Terror, since the culprit is suspected to be Muslim, unfortunately his efforts are hindered when it comes to light that the perpetrator is in fact a snitch, infiltrating the terrorist cell, and feeding Ray’s people intelligence concerning a potential attack.
Harking back to the age old question sung by Pete Seeger, Ray is asking the American government, which side are they on? And, as the answer becomes frustratingly unclear with the passing of time, he must make the choice to either adhere to wartime standards, or resort to frontier justice, hence committing, in the words of George Bluth from Arrested Development, “light treason”.
A commentary on how today, America is forced to face the demons they created in Iraq, but struggling to formulate a moral means of repairing the catastrophe, this political allegory come across as thin, and weak in the parallels drawn. Far better as a work of entertainment, twisting and turning at every corner, the element of surprise is the main highlight in this average piece of work. Once you get beyond that, excluding a few snippets of dialogue, which are salient, amusing, or chilling, there is very little herein worth savouring.
Like the current crisis in the Middle East, this is a broken place, without any clear area wherein one could intervene to sufficiently improve the area as a whole. So, I will say, for at least another few months, stick to watching television dramas. The snowball is still in its early stages. It will require another few rolls down the idea hill before you should give it any class of serious attention.