In 2010, I wrote of El Secreto De Sus Ojos, “It is a superb film, an incredibly rich and moving crime thriller telling a story both in the present and twenty-five years in the past, utilising the streets of Buenos Aires to maximum effect and deploying some of Argentina’s finest actors … [It] transcends its crime-novel beginnings … and resonates as much emotionally as viscerally. Never sordid, gratuitous or dishonest, this is a thoroughly satisfying, big-meal of a movie for adults to savour.”
That film won the Best Foreign Language Oscar that year, beating Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon and Jaques Audiard’s A Prophet. Considering the artistic and intellectual heft of those films, and the regard in which their directors were held, this was quite something, for we’re talking, at essence, of a police procedural – not usually Oscar material. But this film was special. It had an astonishingly brilliant plot – far, far superior to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which was the other pulp novel whose film adaptation(s) transcended the material – and a very particular mood. It was seriously melancholy, full of dashed love as well as bad crime; it was methodical, measured, intellectually stimulating and thoughtful; and it was gorgeously shot. It was one of the film experiences of the year and I’ve never forgotten it.
The good news is that this remake, as completely redundant as it is, honours the tone and spirit of the original and, most importantly, doesn’t screw with the incredibly plotted story. The astonishing twists and turns are all there and I had an excellent couple of hours experiencing them all again, akin to listening to a really good and faithful cover version of a brilliant song. Director Billy Ray aims for that measured, melancholic mood and pretty darn well achieves it, aided immeasurably by a superb lead performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor, who surely must now be counted as one of our great screen actors, and who gets my vote for the next Bond (because come on, Idris Elba is too big – if Bond can beat up the henchmen, what’s the point of his brain, or the gadgets?)
Nicole Kidman gives admirable support in yet another very smartly chosen role, one that reflects her status as a great maturing beauty with a kind of dignified acknowledgement. On the other hand, the make-up department has gone a little overboard turning Julia Roberts, in a smaller role, into a real Plain Jane. Even cops can be pretty. In fact, in Hollywood remakes, they usually are. This remake may be unnecessary, but it’s good. In fact, it’s very good – even if you fondly remember the original.