Julia Roberts Thriller ‘Secret in Their Eyes’ Is ‘Miscast, Misguided and Misbegotten,’ Say Critics

The film costarring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman opened Friday to a Rotten Tomatoes score of 39 percent

“Secret in Their Eyes” already has to compete with one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises on its opening weekend, and critics’ reviews of the Julia Roberts thriller won’t be helping the film’s fortunes.

The movie currently holds a 39 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while this weekend’s other newcomers, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2” and “The Night Before,” boast fresh ratings of 71 and 67 percent, respectively. Critics say “Secret in Their Eyes,” also starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman, is “miscast,” “flat” and “barely flutters to life.”

A remake of the 2009 Argentine thriller that won the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film, this version is “like a pale, limp memory of the original film, its colors faded, its distinction wrung out in the wash.”

Even the ordinarily stellar casting fails to pull it out of free fall. TheWrap’s film critic Alonso Duralde wrote, “The idea of casting for chemistry should perhaps have played a larger part of Billy Ray‘s process in putting together ‘Secret in Their Eyes,’ because he’s given us three very talented actors who seem to be working in three different movies.”

See 10 of the worst reviews below.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

“Not such a good idea remaking the 2009 Argentine thriller that won the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar. The Americanized edition is miscast, misguided and misbegotten.”

Scott Tobias, NPR:

“Yet for all the film’s intelligence and conceptual rigor, it barely flutters to life. The emotions at play in this story … are curiously muted, as if dramatizing them with any kind of panache would be the height of vulgarity. ‘Secret in Their Eyes’ … does what it can to tweak the original for American audiences, but like so many other remakes, it winds up going through the motions.”

Tom Russo, The Boston Globe:

“What’s ironic — and frustrating — is how precipitously the movie itself eventually goes tumbling down the intelligence scale. In the process, Chiwetel Ejiofor is wasted, along with some potent moments from costars Roberts and Nicole Kidman.”

Stephanie Merry, The Washington Post:

“As FBI agent Jess in ‘Secret in Their Eyes,’ [Roberts] arrives at a murder scene only to find that the dead body lying face down in a dumpster is her teen daughter. It’s a horrifying scenario, and Roberts doesn’t act so much as lay bare a mother’s unthinkable, nearly unwatchable anguish. She screams, sobs, pleads and throws herself into the bin to cradle her girl one last time. It’s enough to take your breath away. It’s also the only memorable moment in a movie that transforms thrilling source material … into a straightforward procedural better suited for prime-time television.”

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune:

“In the languid remake ‘Secret in Their Eyes,’ the awkward missing ‘The’ in its title poses a more intriguing mystery than anything on the screen. If you’ve never seen the 2009 original from Argentina … do. It’s extremely high-grade pulp, satisfying as a romance and a crime drama. Writer-director Billy Ray‘s Americanized redux isn’t a disaster, exactly; it keeps its head down and does its job. But nothing quite gels, or clicks, or makes itself at home in its adopted setting.”

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times:

“The new Hollywood film ‘Secret in Their Eyes’ is, on the other hand, a standard movie-star thriller, neither particularly good nor cheerfully terrible; it’s like a pale, limp memory of the original film, its colors faded, its distinction wrung out in the wash.”

Josh Bell, Las Vegas Weekly:

“Ejiofor projects determination as a man obsessed with solving a long-forgotten case, but he can’t make the relationship between Ray and Claire work. Kidman and Roberts, however, are both completely wrong for their roles as, respectively, an ambitious yet empathetic lawyer and a traumatized mother seeking vengeance. Without strong, believable characters, ‘Secret in Their Eyes’ is just a generic thriller, the kind of movie that won’t even be remembered — let alone win an award — come Oscar time.”

Tim Grierson, Screen Daily:

“Writer-director Billy Ray has assembled a fine ensemble headed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts, which only makes the awkwardness of this ill-conceived misfire all the more uncomfortable. In studying how the death of a teenager 13 years ago still eats away at its central characters, ‘Secret’ never rises above cable-movie pulp, a lot of dour emoting adding up to very little actual drama.”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle:

“The Argentine version, by the way, took place over a span of 25 years, a more poetic stretch of time and representing a huge portion of the characters’ adult lives, but difficult to convey onscreen while using the same actors. By shortening the stretch to 13 years, the American film makes things more plausible — and yet with every improvement, some magic is lost. In ‘Secret in Their Eyes,’ we get a story that has been improved almost to the point of nonexistence. That’s the mystery of art, the delicate and intricate alchemy of success. Fix all the flaws and you can end up wrecking the whole thing.”

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times:

“As screenwriter, Billy Ray‘s adapting the original’s Argentina-centric trappings to a tense post-9/11 milieu is smart, but as director his style is hardly atmospheric. It’s ironic that Campanella’s movie was a sly mix of tones — office romance, conspiracy thriller, brooding murder mystery — befitting someone breaking free of directing ‘Law & Order’ episodes, whereas the remake hits marks exactly like a TV procedural.”