Review by John Campbell
At the end of To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus and Judge Taylor decide between themselves that Boo Radley need not face the court after killing Bob Ewell. That we all agreed suggests that our hunger for summary justice remains a driving force under the thinnest veneer of civil proprieties. Billy Ray’s re-working of Juan José Campanella’s El Secreto De Sus Ojos (Oscar’s best foreign-language film of 2010) explores the emotional and psychological crannies from which our actions might never be freed. It also asks a confronting question: should a blind eye be turned on one crime if it jeopardises the prevention of another?
The story starts in the present day. After working as an investigator in New York, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), returns to the LAPD where, after thirteen years, he is reunited with Jess (Julia Roberts), a detective, and Claire (Nicole Kidman), who is now a DA. The ghastly crime that haunts them still is the 2002 rape and murder of Jess’s daughter.
At the time, Ray had identified the killer but was unable to nail him because the suspect was protected as a snitch working undercover at a mosque thought to harbour potential terrorists. Ray believes that he has relocated his man and enlists the other two in his pursuit of him.
Cinephiles are usually hard-wired to tell you that any American cover of a European (or in this case Argentinian) movie is never as good, but it’s not always so. Billy Ray has taken liberties with the plot and cast of characters but remains faithful to the original, even replicating a scene of essential light relief when Ray and his buddy are chased by a little dog down a witness’s hallway.
He is, however, unable to recreate the smouldering passion of the two leads – Ejiofor and Kidman are a mismatch – but the context of 9/11 is a smart twist and the conclusion, harking back as it does to Atticus and the Judge’s discussion, can be seen as unacceptable or entirely appropriate, depending on how high the horse is that you want to get onto.