SECRET IN THEIR EYES is a drab procedural that compares unfavorably with most of today's prestige television; it's remarkable only for the self-importance that pervades every frame. And because a bunch of Oscar winners (Nicole Kidman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts) wandered onto set—I hope they all found their way home safe.
Secret is about a small team of federal terrorism investigators who become obsessed with a murder/rape in 2002, shortly after 9/11. (Yes, a raped dead girl appears in a dumpster, go ahead and mark that off on your "Patriarchy's the Worst" bingo card.) Personal connections to the murder lead Ray (Ejiofor) to become obsessed with the case, which he'll spend the next 13 years working on. Cue twinned past and present storylines in which passage of time is denoted by Julia Roberts' lipstick color. (Gray wormlips = present day.)
It's not Secret's fault that it was released at a historical moment where literally no one in the world wants to see a movie about cops who decide they've got better things to do than address a potential terrorist threat. Images of a weeping, beret-clad Statue of Liberty are still flooding my Facebook feed. Republican governors are vowing to block the immigration of Syrian refugees. Memories of 9/11 are suddenly very close to the surface. But it's not like Secret would be good if it had come out a year ago, either—it'd just be a bit less aggressively tacky. There should be a metaphor at the heart of Secret in Their Eyes, some commentary on America or terrorism or war. (See Michael Haneke's Caché for an example of a thriller that expertly plumbed French national pathologies on colonialism and race.) I kept waiting for the point of it all, but that point never arrived. Secret doesn't want to grapple with anything big; it just wants to use big things as window dressing to make itself seem more important.