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Suspenseful 'Secret In Their Eyes' twists itself into one too many knots
Chiwetel Ejiofor stars in Secret in Their Eyes. - photo by Josh Terry
SECRET IN THEIR EYES 2 stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Michael Kelly, Zoe Graham; PG-13 (thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references); in general release

"Secret In Their Eyes" is the American adaptation of an Argentine film that won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2010. That sets the bar pretty high, but in spite of a star-studded Hollywood cast, "Secret" manages to clothesline itself on an unsatisfying twist ending.

The film twists two storylines around a rape/murder investigation that takes place soon after 9/11. When a co-workers teenage daughter is killed, a counter-terrorism agent named Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) steps out of his jurisdiction to spearhead the investigation. Its hard enough that the victims mother Jess (Julia Roberts) works a desk away, but things get even more complicated when the chief suspect (Joe Cole) turns out to be an informant who is helping the government root out a potential terrorist cell on U.S. soil.

We presume that this initial investigation eventually goes cold, because Secret weaves this storyline with a second set of events 13 years later, in the present day. Here, Ray has returned to the unit after years of self-imposed exile, claiming he has at last found the guilty party. All his old friends are still around including Jess but no one seems excited to open the old case.

Director Billy Ray toggles back and forth between the timelines, slowly moving forward on the present day manhunt while issuing us one chunk of historical background at a time for context. Rays relationship with an up-and-coming attorney named Claire (Nicole Kidman) is a focal point of the story, as unrequited romantic passion and determined professional conviction frequently stumble over each other.

There are some real highlights here, mainly thanks to the high-caliber cast. Roberts plays a tortured woman who has been reduced to a hollow shell of her witty, confident former self. And in one gripping scene, Kidman delivers a scathing verbal takedown of the key suspect that goes at the heart of a dark subject.

The problem is the films third act, which leaps into a pair of plot twists that undermine the credibility of the whole film. A classic twist think of Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho or M. Night Shyamalans Sixth Sense has a way of presenting a stunning reveal that explains previous actions in a satisfying manner. But Secrets twist leaves you feeling like the movie was a waste of time.

The reaction of the principal characters to these twists doesnt help. Secret is all about the seedy, unethical machinations and tests of scruples that come into play behind the closed doors of politics and national security. It raises some compelling questions such as is the investigation of one murder worth risking another potential 9/11? but it fails to give any satisfactory answers, and no one comes out smelling like roses at the end of it all.

The subject matter for Secret has been transposed into an American context, and its content has been presumably softened for a PG-13 rating (the Argentine film received an R). But even though the modern terrorist context presents some nice topical opportunity, theres little in Secret to suggest an award-worthiness like that of its source material. It feels like poor execution more than anything else.

"Secret in Their Eyes" is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references; running time: 111 minutes.