Secret in Their Eyes online movie review - Can't hold a candle to the Oscar winning original
"Secret in Their Eyes" is a film the #OscarsSoWhite activists would probably rather you didn't see, particularly if you've already seen the Oscar winning "El secreto de sus ojos," as it contradicts many of their premises.
ESDSO has very little diversity in the cast, all of whom are presumably Argentine or at least Latin American and predominantly male. SITE made a few changes to the original novel and cast to make it more diverse. Some changes work quite well. Setting the earlier events in the months immediately following 9/11 make the remake more relevant to audiences in the States; however it halves the period between present and past events, which weaken it slightly. Tweaking the final scene added to its impact.
An early scene was changed significantly, presumably to cater to mid-American sensitivities. The detectives arrive at the scene of a murder. IN ESDSO, the audience has already seen the victim alive and know she is young, beautiful and vivacious. We've seen a brief flash of the victim as she is brutally attacked. Those scenes establish sympathy for the victim effectively and economically. Next we see the victim sprawled out, naked, her vacant eyes staring toward the camera. Her body is battered, bloodied and bruised, but we can still see how beautiful and sexy she used to be, and how vulnerable she was when she was killed. The detective stares for a long moment and we realize that this murder has acquired special significance.
In SITE, the victim is shown in a very brief flashback, but we don't realize who she is. When the body is discovered, it's face-down in a dumpster, so even if we did remember the memory flash, we wouldn't make the connection. She's fully clothed, as if the killer took time to dress her after raping and murdering her and "bleaching the body inside and out," which seems strange and contrived. It's a crime scene, but the police haven't put up any yellow tape. The detective recognizes the victim and realizes the mother is standing nearby.
We've seen the scene before, notably in Michael Mann's "Heat." We know the mother will want to rush to the body. The detective should know this. Pacino's Hanna knew it and blocked the mother from approaching or even entering the crime scene, drawing her into a compassionate embrace. The detective should have known this also. But instead of hustling the mother away from the crime scene or enlisting a couple of uniformed cops to help restrain the mother, he actually asks a first responder to step away to give the mother some room, then allows her to rush past him and contaminate the crime scene. This is after dialogue about rubber gloves. When we see the victim, she isn't cut or bruised and doesn't look as if she has been attacked.
The scene has about 2% of the visual impact, makes the detective seem bumbling and incompetent and taxes the audience's willful suspension of disbelief.
In the early scenes, we learn the detective has spent every free moment of the past thirteen years pouring over mug shots, searching for a suspect and has found one that doesn't really look much like the guy, but might be if he had had some rhinoplasty. The other characters don't think it's the same guy. Movies about novelists are difficult, but having the detective struggle with a novel was much more effective. The handwriting and the typewriter with the broken A were nice touches, if anachronistic.
The jumps between the present and past were handled more effectively in the original. The greying of Benjamin's hair and changes in the style of his beard provide simple but effective cues to the time frame.
The cast is much more diverse, recasting one of the male leads as a female, a black (played by a Brit, not an African-American) and a Hispanic (played convincingly by a British Itanian- Spaniard). The babe factor was dialed down, eliminating two walk-ons presented as little more than eye-candy and replacing the voluptuous victim with a high school student played by a twenty-one-year-old actress. None of these changes help advance the plot.
ESDSO hit the ground running with a lot of conflict between the principals. SITE attempted to present them as a tightly knit group torn apart by events and circumstances. The relationships and interpersonal dynamics between the characters in ESDSO seem more real and authentic than in SITE. The unrequited love between Benjamin and Irene in ESDSO seems very real and authentic, while the analogous relationship between Ray and Claire never does. Ray holding Claire's hand as they approach a crime scene seemed forced. The way the title is reflected in the photographs is more effective in ESDSO. This was bookended in the original; if it was in the remake, I missed it. The letters in ESDSO are more effective than the comic book, as is the way the significance is revealed.
Technically, SITE trumps ESDSO. Cinematography is more proficient, with far fewer jiggly- cam shots. But ESDSO has better energy and pacing. Julia Robert's fat suit didn't work at all because her face is still slender. By contrast, the stippling, balding, greying and other aging effects in the ESDSO were quite convincing.
The remake has many good qualities, some of which are improvements, and is worth watching, but can't hold a candle to the original. A few of the changes to the script improved the story and made it more accessible to audiences in the United States, but some of the changes that seem to have been effected for the sake of diversity and/or to broaden its appeal weakened the story substantially.