Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Billy Ray
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Dean Norris, Alfred Molina, Joe Cole, Michael Kelly, Zoe Graham.
This twisting thriller about murder, the search for justice, grief, obsession, revenge and the high emotional cost of vengeance is a workmanlike but ultimately uninspired US remake of the 2010 Oscar winning Argentine film from director Juan Jose Campanella. Writer/director Billy Ray has relocated the action from 1970s Buenos Aires, with its political tensions and air of corruption and conspiracy, to Los Angeles against the backdrop of post 9/11 paranoia and tension.
In 2002, Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor, from 12 Years A Slave, etc) is part of a counter terror unit based in LA, where he works alongside his colleague Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts), Bumpy Willis (Dean Norris), and the more cynical Seifert (Matt Kelly). They are monitoring activities at a mosque, when they receive a call about a dead body in a garbage dumpster in a parking lot adjacent to the mosque. Ray discovers that the victim is Carolyn, Jess’s daughter.
While Jess struggles to control her grief, Ray urges Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman), the young new assistant district attorney, to press the investigation as a matter of urgency. The investigation leads them to a suspect in Marzin (Joe Cole). Marzin turns out to be a prize informant working undercover to find out more about the activities within the mosque, and is protected. This creates a dilemma for the team, especially when political expediency interferes. The politically motivated and ambitious District Attorney Morales (Alfred Molina) refuses to press charges, declaring that “terrorism trumps rape and murder every day.” Marzin is released and then disappears.
Ray returned to New York but for thirteen years was obsessed with finding Marzin, Using the latest in facial recognition technology he believes he has discovered a new lead and returns to Los Angeles determined to find closure in the case. Surprisingly though not every one shares his passion to reopen the case. Jess is a haunted woman, still seemingly wrapped up in her grief and surviving by devoting herself to the job. Claire is now the District Attorney, but she seems reluctant to pursue the matter. Ray’s obsession leads down some dark and disturbing alleyways and the plot takes a couple of twists before arriving at an uncomfortable climax.
Director Ray is better known as a writer of tough tense dramas like Captain Phillips, and this is his first film behind the camera since 2007’s espionage thriller Breach. His direction is workmanlike and he fails to brings any particular flair or real sense of tension to this procedural. One of the standout sequences of the original was the tense chase through a crowded stadium, which is effectively recreated here in Dodger Stadium, and the ending of this remake remains reasonably faithful to the downbeat nature of the original. For those unfamiliar with the original, the finale may come as an unsettling shock, but for most this remake lacks the darker edge of the original.
Cinematographer Danny Moder (Roberts’ husband) uses the Los Angeles landscapes to good effect, adding a sinister atmosphere to the material.
The film moves back and forth between the two time frames, but this becomes a little disorienting as it is sometimes hard to adjust to where we are – apart from Dean Norris’ hairpiece and limp it is hard to work out which time frame the action is set in. It may have been better to have those scenes set in the past unfold first, giving a sense of the characters and their personal involvement in the investigation, and then cut to the thirteen years later section to pull it all together.
Ejiofor has a strong and intense presence and he holds the film together with a compelling performance. Eschewing makeup for much of the time, Roberts looks suitably haunted, drawn and gaunt here and her face shows the ravages of her grief and pain as the traumatised Jess. Her role was originally written for a male, but changing the gender brings an extra emotional element to the material. Kidman’s normally cold and icy presence is perfectly suited to her role as the District Attorney, but she gets the opportunity to shine in one particularly gritty interrogation scene. And Norris is a welcome presence who brings some energy and humour to proceedings.
But despite its top notch cast, ultimately this a disappointing and largely unnecessary remake that adds little to the powerful original, and makes you wonder why anyone bothered.