Secret in Their Eyes

It's ironic, the timing of the release of this film. Right after the terrorist attack in Paris. Once again, we are on high alert about terrorist threats. Everyone is nervous, and a little bit afraid to go out in public, which is, of course, exactly what the terrorists want. Make us afraid of our own shadows. Make us make mistakes by being overzealous.
In “Secret in Their Eyes,” the three young friends were smart, sucessful, professional crime investigators. They were on a post-9/11 select anti-terrorist unit. Their team was infiltrating a mosque; one that had promising leads to terrorist activities. Everything else was secondary.
Of course, there were other things going on, behind the scenes, as well. One investigator, Claire (Nicole Kidman), is new to the team, but ambitious (she says determined) and political (she says cooperative). She's attractive, so the FBI import on the case, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), has an immediate crush on her. There's some reciprocation, but she happens to be engaged. Her fiance has a high-powered job across the country; the distance seems to suit both of them. Plenty of time for demanding, stressful careers. Not so much time for cuddling in front of the television on a rainy night with a pizza and a beer. But it's the other member of the team who gets her heart cut out. Jess (Julia Roberts) discovers that it's her daughter in the dumpster by the mosque. She's beyond devastated; she says that it's her daughter who made her who she was. The daugther was just getting ready to graduate from high school. Cute, smart, winsome, and her whole life ahead of her. Brutally cut down in her prime by a complete sicko, who it turns out, was the snitch inside the mosque. And therefore untouchable. Homeland Security priority, and all that. The team of three blows up in a morass of guilt, recrimination, disgust with the system, and that hollow, empty feeling that comes from a loss too big to accept. And it could have been prevented.
Thirteen years later, the principal characters have changed significantly. Claire, the ambitious one, has risen to D.A., but she looks so tightly-wound and high-strung and aloof that it's hard to find a real flesh-and-blood person behind that designer suit and pancake make-up. Ray has just kind of dropped out of the high-tech law enforcement circles, and says something vague about the private sector, which indicates either a bottom-rung-on-the-ladder private investigator, or even worse, a contract security guard. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. As for Jess, she looks so bad that even Ray tells her she looks like she's a hundred years old. That gaunt, haunted, pained look of the permanently depressed. There's no light in the eyes, there's no bounce in the step, there's no smile. Like all the fun has been sucked out of her, like water out of a corn stalk, leaving only this dry, hardened husk. (It's a testimony to the still-gorgeous Julia Roberts that she portrays this convincingly.)
Ray thinks he's found the perp. From 13 years ago. There's a part of all of them that's not interested in re-visiting this. For many reasons. The romance that never was. The arrest that was never made. The closure that never happened. Can it all be recovered now, after so much pain and loss and grieving? They can't help but give it a try, even if somewhat half-hearted at first. And then the law of unintended consequences trumps everything.
This is tight, intense little story that is sometimes light on the detail and explanation, and heavy on setting a mood. (“It's all about the passion.”) Chiwetel Ejiofor is credible, Nicole Kidman is practically plasticene, and Julia Roberts is decidedly unglamorous here, but you can't take your eyes off her, anyway. It's her character that runs the show. Unintended consequences or not.

Questions For Discussion:
  1. Have you suffered such a huge loss that you've never recovered from it? (See Matthew 2: 16-18)
  2. Have you given up on a once-promising career in order to do something far below the radar?
  3. What are the secondary casualties of the counter-terrorism war?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Mabank, Texas