Secret In Their Eyes **

A solid cast can’t elevate ho-hum material that fails to intrigue.

Is it worth $10? No

A murder 13 years ago. A cold case reopened. Three old friends played by Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor entwined in the investigation. A red-hot screenwriter, Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips,” “The Hunger Games”), in his third directorial effort, backed by a solid cast and a dark, grimy L.A. backdrop. Yes, “Secret In Their Eyes” has all the ingredients of a top-notch murder mystery thriller.

And yet it stinks.

More than anything, it’s dull. We’re supposed to be engrossed in finding the killer of Carolyn Cobb (Zoe Graham), who was district attorney investigator Jess’ (Roberts) teenage daughter. However, the lead investigator, Ray (Ejiofor), is so convinced that the killer is a guy named Marzan (Joe Cole) that there’s no room for mystery. The story becomes a matter of catching Marzan and Marzan only, a process that is delayed by flashbacks to 13 years earlier when Ray, Jess and their colleague Claire (Kidman) first began the investigation. There’s very little in these flashbacks that’s of much importance to the present, which has the end effect of bloating the running time to 111 minutes while not making the movie any more interesting.

If you’re like me, you’ll wait for (and expect) a plot twist that never comes. Maybe the killer is fellow investigator Siefert (Michael Kelly), you’ll think, who covers up for Marzan early on. Or maybe it’s good guy investigator Bumpy (Dean Norris), whom we don’t know much about but is played by a big enough star (Norris was Hank on “Breaking Bad”) that it could happen (they wouldn’t give a big reveal to a nobody actor, after all). Or the killer could even be the district attorney (Alfred Molina) who insists on looking the other way with the murder investigation because he deems a possibly Al-Qaeda infested mosque in L.A. to be more important than a dead teenager.

Perhaps you wouldn’t spend so much time thinking about possible plot twists if there was more going on in the main storyline, but it’s all woefully slow. If “Secret In Their Eyes” has a fatal mistake, it’s this: It takes what could’ve been a compelling whodunit and ruins any would-be tension by giving us only one person who could’ve “dunit” and spending the entire movie chasing that one guy. A nearly two-hour chase for anyone is bound to grow tiresome unless your name is Mad Max.

The actors do what they can with the material, but with a story like this it’s a thankless task. It also doesn’t help that Ray is given little motivation regarding his determination to solve the case, that Jess doesn’t have much to do besides look angry for most of the movie, and that Claire, once a rising young attorney, is relegated to little more than a love interest in the film’s second half. So much more could and should have been done with each character to make them feel essential, not superfluous.

Having seen “Secret In Their Eyes,” I’m now thinking of what’s worse than a murder mystery without suspense. Probably an action movie that doesn’t excite (“Spectre”), a comedy that isn’t funny (“Rock The Kasbah”), and/or a horror story that’s never spooky (“Crimson Peak”). All are major film faux pas that should be unacceptable to consumers demanding quality for their hard earned dollar.

Did you know?
The film is a remake of the Argentinian mystery thriller “El Segreto de Sus Ojos” (2009), which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

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