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‘Secret in Their Eyes’ review: Great cast chases tepid cold case

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Julia Roberts star in

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Julia Roberts star in "Secret in Their Eyes."

PLOT A former FBI agent returns to Los Angeles to solve a haunting crime.

CAST Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Chiwetel Ejiofor


PLAYING AT Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE A dream-team cast is wasted in this contrived and morose crime thriller.

Outside of an Oscar ceremony, you’ll rarely find a gathering of actors better than the cast of “Secret in Their Eyes.” The Los Angeles-set thriller stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) as former FBI investigator Ray Kasten, who is trying to solve a crime that’s been haunting him for years. Julia Roberts plays his colleague Jess Cobb, whose teenage daughter was murdered by a slippery suspect, and Nicole Kidman is Claire Sloan, an ambitious deputy district attorney who failed to prosecute the case. With these three leading a movie, what could go wrong?

As it turns out, nearly everything. Written and directed by Billy Ray from the 2009 Argentinian film that won a foreign-language Oscar, “Secret in Their Eyes” traps three great actors in what feels and looks like a second-rate television cop show. The problem isn’t just the convoluted narrative and overall tone of morose self-flagellation. Nearly every detail feels incorrect, from the squeaky-clean body of the brutalized victim to the crisp new case files that are supposed to be 12 years old. In this movie, when cops finally find the abandoned van that’s been eluding them for days, it’s parked sideways in the middle of a major street. On fire.

“Secret in Their Eyes” rarely offers the thrill of finding new clues because they’re plopped down before us so gracelessly. The film’s villain, a punk named Marzin (Joe Cole), is an impossible bundle of contrivances: a snitch inside a terrorist cell who loves baseball, horse racing and comic books, yet yearns to be a cop.

An unconvincing semi-romance between Ray and Claire pads out the running time and adds melodrama, as if more were needed. The final twist is such a cruel joke on its characters that it would be funny, except that the joke is on us for having sat through the movie.

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