Leave it to Argentina to bring the world a box office-busting critical darling of a crime thriller that still managed to explore difficult themes of ethics, justice, and the legacy of the country’s violent Dirty War. Leave it to the United States to totally miss all that subtext and make a generic adrenaline-pumping genre piece about angry vigilantes. This may or may not be the future of Juan José Campanella’s Academy Award-winning El secreto de sus ojos, which after six years has gotten a Hollywood makeover and a literal translation as Secret in Their Eyes.
Yet despite Hollywood’s terrible track record remaking foreign films, we’ve got to admit that Secret in Their Eyes has brought together some serious A-list acting talent, with Academy Award-winners Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, and Nicole Kidman filling out the lead roles. Directed by Hunger Games screenwriter Billy Ray (that’s his full name), Secret in Their Eyes keeps the basic idea of the original, but switches out Buenos Aires for Los Angeles and makes some considerable tweaks along the way.
Most importantly, in Campanella’s original the two detectives searching for the perpetrator of a brutal rape and murder have no direct personal relation to the crime; in Ray’s U.S. remake, Julia Robert’s FBI Investigator is the mother of the victim. The original was a period piece, while Ray’s version seems to be contemporary. And finally, in Campanella’s version the story is framed by a true crime novel one of the agents is writing thirteen years after the unsolved crime was closed. The remake apparently uses no such device.
Stylistically Ray does seem to have taken a liking to Campanella’s shadowy, low-contrast visual approach, and judging from the trailer he seems to capture the mood of the Argentine version quite well. But what most stands out about Secret in Their Eyes is undoubtedly the acting, which clearly called for Roberts plumb emotional depths perhaps never explored in previous roles. And while Ray has certainly given an important place to the film’s atmosphere, he also seems to respect the acting enough to roll the camera and just let them do their thing.
It may not be quite like the original, and it may lose some of its deeper social subtexts in translation, but this undoubtedly looks like no other thriller the United States has seen in some time.