There is a long tradition of Hollywood co-opting the plots of well-regarded foreign films and then snuffing out the very qualities that made the originals feel fresh, unique and eminently remake-able. While it might remove the need for those pesky subtitles, these Americanized versions too often erase such essential elements as logic, subtext and the sense of cultural relevance that made the title a standout in the first place.
Well, they’ve done it again with “The Secret in Their Eyes,” 2010’s foreign-language Oscar winner from Argentina. A smartly done, haunting crime thriller, revolving around a brutal 1974 rape-murder investigation that is re-opened 25 years later, the film charts the effect that the unsatisfactory conclusion to the case had on both the legal team and the victim’s devoted husband. It’s a reflection of the country’s rampant government corruption at the time.
The complicated “who, what, where, when and how” aspects were handled expertly, especially a scene staged in a massively crowded soccer stadium. But what truly distinguished this superb film were the intense emotional connections brought to life by actors Ricardo Darin and Soledad Villamil, who look and acted like real humans, not prettified facsimiles. The agonizing unrequited love between Darin’s justice agent and Villamil’s department chief colored every bittersweet second of “The Secret of Their Eyes,” down to the agonizing final moments.
Now (not exactly, but in 2015, I chanced upon it only a couple of days ago though) we have “Secret in Their Eyes. Despite the fact that a surprising number of plot machinations from the original film remain fully intact, what is missing is the type of hold-your-breath tension provided by good thrillers. Billy Ray’s handling of the footage (an Oscar-nominated screenwriter for his “Captain Phillips” script, deftly directed the journalism-scandal biopic “Shattered Glass.”) never once stirrs up excitement.
It may be unfair to compare the Argentine version with this inferior one, since most people probably haven’t seen the first. But even when taken on its own terms, “Secret in Their Eyes” amounts to a huge disappointment. Perhaps reading subtitles might have been a better option than sitting through two hours of a weak imitation.