Secret in Their Eyes


The eyes have it.

The eyes have it.

(2015) Mystery (STX) Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Alfred Molina, Dean Norris, Joe Cole, Michael Kelly, Zoe Graham, Patrick Davis, Eileen Fogarty, Lyndon Smith, Kim Yarbrough, Mark Famiglietti, Amir Malaklou, Niko Nicotera, David Israel, Dennis Keiffer, Don Harvey, Glenn Davis, Walter Tabayoyong, Michael Tennant, Ho Sung Pak, Saige Donaldson. Directed by Billy Ray

 

The line between justice and vengeance is often a fine one. There are those that say that you can have one or the other but never both; there are others that say they go hand in hand. Either way, both are exceedingly hard to attain and in the pursuit of one, often one has to settle for the other. When what attains is vengeance, we often have to kill a little piece of ourselves in order to find it.

In the aftermath of 9-11, an elite counter-terrorism task force has been established in Los Angeles by multiple law enforcement agencies. District Attorney Martin Morales (Molina) heads up the team, and among his agents are partners Ray (Ejiofor) from the FBI and Jess (Roberts) from the L.A. District Attorney’s investigative team. In their crosshairs is a downtown mosque which is said to harbor a cleric who had intentions of taking the jihadist fight to the City of Angels.

When a body is found in a dumpster next to the mosque, red flags are sent up and Ray and Jess are sent to investigate. However, the grisly discovery is of Jess’ 18-year-old daughter Carolyn (Graham), a vivacious soul who had been getting ready to go to college in the fall. The discovery devastates the team. New assistant D.A. Claire (Kidman) is assigned the case and a suspect is quickly located. However, dead end upon dead end frustrates the team and eventually Ray figures out who really did it – an informant within the mosque itself (Cole). But he is being protected by powerful forces and is set free, only to disappear.

Thirteen years later, Ray – now working as a security consultant for the New York Mets – comes to Claire – now the District Attorney – with the startling news that Ray has located the long-missing suspect. Claire and Jess (who still works for the office) are reluctant to reopen old wounds but Ray is particularly obsessed with the case and in bringing the man who killed Jess’ daughter in to pay for his crime. But even now, there are obstacles in the way of finding peace for Ray, Jess – and Claire.

This is based on the 2009 Oscar-winning film The Secret in Their Eyes, an Argentine film that won Best Foreign Language Film that year. While the plots are identical, some of the details have been changed which changes the dynamics of the newer film somewhat. Also you have three Oscar-caliber actors, all of whom who have won or at least been nominated, in the main parts.

Ejiofor is the central character and as he did in 12 Years a Slave he carries the movie on his broad shoulders. The scene in which he discovers the identity of the body in the dumpster is an incredible piece of work, although it is sadly unduplicated throughout the rest of the film. No, all three of the actors in the front deliver good, solid performances with moments of excellence. Roberts in particular has a haunted look that is most unlike any of her previous performances.

The problem here is that the low-key aspect of the film drains the energy from the audience. The pacing is extraordinarily slow and there were a number of scenes that I thought could have been trimmed if not excised. Ray also jumps in time between 2002 and 2015 and often the only way to tell what time period you’re observing is by the amount of gray in Ray’s hair. I occasionally found it confusing and hard to follow.

The overall atmosphere has a bit of a noir edge to it, just as the original did albeit with a Latin flavor. Transplanting the movie to Los Angeles robs it of that and indeed gives the movie an oddly generic quality – so many thrillers have been set in L.A. that there’s a been there-done that patina. That’s kind of disturbing and not in a good way.

While the ending is cathartic if a bit preposterous, it doesn’t save the audience from feeling that this is something they’ve seen before, even if you haven’t seen the original movie this is based on. Considering the abilities of the director and the talent of the cast, this is an extremely disappointing project that on paper should have been much better than it turned out to be. While it is still entertaining and I can recommend it solely on that basis, this is a movie that is haunted by the specter of what could have been.

REASONS TO GO: All three leads are fine actors. Cathartic. Noir-esque.
REASONS TO STAY: Surprisingly lethargic. Could have used some judicious editing. Time jumping can be confusing (keep an eye on the actors’ hair for clues).
FAMILY VALUES: Disturbing violence and sexual content, rape and plenty of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: All three of the leads – Ejiofor, Kidman and Roberts – are left-handed.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/8/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 41% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Zodiac
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Second Mother

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Taken 2


Taken 2

Maggie Grace doesn’t react well to the critical pasting her latest film has taken.

(2012) Action (20th Century Fox) Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbedzija, Luke Grimes, Leland Orser, Jon Gries, D.B. Sweeney, Kevork Malikyan, Alain Figlarz, Ergun Kuyucu, Alex Dawe, Luenell, Olivier Rabourdin. Directed by Olvier Megaton

 

There is an old saying – let sleeping dogs lie. This is particularly true when said sleeping dog is a former CIA operative with a particular set of skills that tend towards the mayhem-inducing.

Bryan Mills (Neeson), the said ex-company operative, wants nothing more than to be a dad. He is trying to help his daughter Kim (Grace) get her driver’s license after two failed attempts. After all, when you live in L.A. you gotta have wheels. Especially when you were kidnapped by Albanian sex slavers in Paris and had to be rescued by your Dad who put half of Albania in the ground to do it.

Of course, even these lowlifes have parents, brothers and sisters who mourn their loss (yes, despicable white slavers have parents too). One in particular, Murad Krasniqi (Serbedzija) is about as scummy as the ones Bryan slaughtered and it is him who declares that he will get “justice” which in this context rhymes with “blengeance.”

Bryan, who these days is a security consultant, is protecting a powerful potentate visiting Istanbul. Just before he leaves, his ex-wife Lenore (Janssen) who will henceforth be referred to as “Lenni” since that’s what Bryan calls her, is upset because a planned trip to China with her new husband got canceled because…well, her new husband (and about to be new ex-husband) is a dick. Bryan, a sweet hearted sort, offers to fly Lenni and Kim out to Istanbul where they can vacation once his job has concluded.

At first it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen but Lenni and Kim decide to surprise Bryan by showing up anyway and thus the family vacation starts. At first there is a bit of sight-seeing and a little more matchmaking – Kim really wants her parents to get back together again, despite her overprotective dad busting in on a make-out session between her and her somewhat too-polite-to-be-true boyfriend Jamie (Grimes).

Unfortunately, nothing ruins a family vacation than a bunch of Albanian thugs kidnapping the family for the purpose of making the father watch the mom die slowly and selling off the daughter into sexual slavery like she was supposed to be in the first movie. However, apparently Murad didn’t see the first movie or he’d know that messing with Liam Neeson is tantamount to asking for your ass to be kicked and having everyone within a three mile radius gunned down.

I really liked the first Taken. Not only did it establish Neeson as an action star, it was one of French action film producer Luc Besson’s best films yet (and remains so to this day). It was hyper-kinetic and even though there was a bit of suspension of disbelief overload (which also exists here) it was a fun piece of action entertainment.

Here while Neeson continues to take center stage (as he should) there’s more emphasis on his family than before. Janssen’s Lenni goes from uber-bitch to sympathetic character and the sparks fly between her and Bryan. Also, Grace’s Kim goes from being whiny and helpless to capable and skillful. She drops grenades on people and drives like Remy Julienne during a particularly fine car chase sequence.

The action sequences are strangely not quite up to the level of the first film, although the car chase comes close. I will say I like Serbedzija as the villain over the mostly disposable and faceless Albanians from the first film.

However while pretty good, this isn’t great and the first film was great. Certainly Taken 2 will not disappoint action fans and those who love the genre should be urged to go see it if they haven’t already (and given the box office numbers it appears that they have). There is certainly enough to warrant interest in an already proposed third film in the franchise. Hopefully Taken 3 will find someone else besides Neeson’s family to take however.

REASONS TO GO: Neeson one of the most dependable action stars today and Grace steps it up a notch. Nice Istanbul locations.

REASONS TO STAY: Action sequences not quite as kinetic as first film. Stretches believability in places.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots and lots of violence, as well as a bit of sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The budget was triple the one of the first film (from $26M to $80M) and seems to have been worth the uptick in cash as the film is doing big time box office and has already gotten a green light for a Taken 3.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/17/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 21% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100. The reviews have been mixed to bad.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Tourist

ISTANBUL LOVERS: Many of the exteriors were filmed in Istanbul, a beautiful and squalid city that rarely gets the screen time it deserves.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Cold Weather