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segunda-feira, 29 de fevereiro de 2016
Secret in Their Eyes review: 'underdeveloped and overwrought'
Billy Ray's star-studded remake of Argentina's Oscar-winning murder mystery is dead on arrival
Back in 2009, a sombre, twisty Argentinian thriller called The Secret in Their Eyes pulled off a remarkable heist at the Oscars. It beat two far more critically acclaimed contenders – Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon and Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet – to the Best Foreign Film award. It was also a substantial box office hit: again, bigger than either of those.
Juan José Campanella’s film, a policier spanning a quarter-century about an unapprehended murderer, must have tapped into the same taste for procedural whodunnits that has made all those Scandi crime dramas such water-cooler TV.
Now the Hollywood remake is upon us, and an estimable cast, headed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, do their darnedest to make it fly. It’s been put together by one of Hollywood’s most prolific screenwriters, Billy Ray, who penned Captain Phillips, The Hunger Games, and the film version of State of Play, as well as his self-directed thrillers Shattered Glass and Breach, both of which were pretty interesting.
Why, then, does it fall so flat? Ray hasn’t nailed the structure, dug deeply enough into the characterisations, or finessed the big twist nearly well enough - that’s why. To say that his film juggles two timeframes is already flattering it – it just flings them both up in the air and switches its attention idly back and forth. One crashes right down to earth; the other hovers, semi-interestingly.
In 2002 Los Angeles, the body of a young girl is found in a dumpster next to a mosque, which all three of our leads – counter-terror investigators – are surveilling to make a breakthrough in post-9/11 intelligence.
The most powerful scene by far is the identification of this body, which Ejiofor’s Ray is the first to get a good look at. The camera tracks his gasping shock as he walks numbly across to Roberts’s character, Jess, and has to deliver the words that will ruin her life: it’s her daughter. Thunderstruck, Roberts fights her way right next to the corpse to get confirmation of her own.
In this one sequence she succeeds in breaking the movie wide open – it’s a gruellingly effective showcase for what a good dramatic actress she is, and makes up (at least temporarily) for the clankingly dim preamble of the preceding reel.
Thirteen years later, the presumed killer is still at large, because the cost of prosecuting him when they should have – which the powers that be prevented from happening – was potentially sacrificing leads in the war on terror. Joe Cole plays the role of this prime suspect with slovenly conviction and a drawling Eurasian accent – he’s a memorable creep.
But the case against him is circumstantial at best, hinging on his general lasciviousness, his predatory expression staring at the victim in a single photo, and a fetish for comic-book violence. It dents the film’s credibility badly that experienced investigators such as Ray and Claire (Nicole Kidman) assume they can just wing the case on a strong hunch: they must know how the system works.
Kidman only has one scene that suggests why this wholly functional part appealed, when she taunts Cole’s character about his virility, trying to get a rise and a confession out of him. Like all the other effective stuff, it’s a flashback. The 13-years-later layer of the film, where it really comes undone, is riddled with bad dialogue of the “You were always beautiful, but so ambitious...” variety, or the “Wow, 13 years, two promotions...” variety, as if the writer-director barely trusts us to get the point that everyone’s that much older.
The film also wastes too much energy detailing an unrequited crush Ray has on Claire, when the relationship that really counts here, and gets short shrift as a result, is the one between him and Jess. His fight to get justice for her daughter ought to be a moving essay on carrying your own share of a friend’s grief, but while Ejiofor is certainly pushing the role in that direction, the script has a more dubiously gimmicky resolution in mind. Ejiofor's director doesn't coax the best out of him, either: unlike the excellent Ricardo Darin first time around, he’s mostly lunging in a vacuum.
Managing to be simultaneously underdeveloped and overwrought is a common flaw in pseudo-adult thrillers. So is depending on a payload of cathartic emotion without doing the steady work of earning it.