Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Review: Secret in Their Eyes (2015)
Billy Ray's second framework of bureaucratic impotence is built upon the tried-and-true bedrock of a teenage girl's murder (additionally, under a façade of the height of the War on Terror), so you'd think that he would at least have a clear idea of how serious the film has to be. You'd certainly think that, all right, but the problems go all the way past its odd tone down to a clear misunderstand of the material itself, The Vanishing style, and with no begrudgingly respectable supervillain at the center and no epilogue where somebody becomes a lawyer, his house collapses.
A fairly large problem is the storytelling structure. You can appreciate the mystery of not knowing which time period a scene takes place in, using only visual cues to orient yourself, but isn't worth it when the tradeoff is no suspense in the 2002 era when we know the case has to last for thirteen more years. A linear structure is a no-brainer way this could have been avoided but what about the rest of it? The film shifts into strange tonal contradictions on a dime. Julia Roberts plays up the yucks seconds before finding her daughter's corpse, making it seem like this ordeal is punishment. Chiwetel Ejiofer is bitten by a tiny dog in the middle of an illegal search-and-seizure and they talk about that instead of the "clue" they just found. And should this other character really be called 'Bumpy'? You say his name so often.
The questionable decisions stack higher, like adding an annoying sound to signify Nicole Kidman's anxiety or putting Julia Roberts in a terrible wig. Ejiofor, who is talented enough to portray young and dangerous and old and weary with a mere graying of his hair, is wasted on what has to be the most ineffective agent in movie history. There are sudden descents into odd genre schlock; "I don't talk to him. I don't like the way he looks at the horses," is a line that happens. And there's a bit of business involving a huge dick that I won't spoil because woweee.
A very late twist ends up rendering over half of the movie a waste of time, including a preposterous diversion involving comical caricatures of white gangsters. The inclusion of big stars and a PG-13 rating imprison the film in the weird sort of box, where they can't stick the thematic landing or even deliver on visceral thrills. Bizarre bullshit pulls the walls down. Oh, and for an additional bit of discomfort, it turns out David Mamet was right... it's the Jews' turn at the barrel.