Thirteen years after his partner’s (Roberts) daughter is found raped and murdered in a dumpster, FBI agent (Ejiofor), now sidelined and working at the LA Dodgers' stadium, is still obsessed with tracking down the killer. His hunt will soon bring him into conflict with darker forces.
Like a voracious beast that’s never quite satisfied, Hollywood picks over world cinema, as well as its own back catalogue, for material and ideas. But for every The Departed, smartly adapted from Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, there’s a clutch of Let Me Ins and The Vanishings, foreign-language translations where the genius of the original withers and dies like an organism dragged out of its natural habitat. Billy Ray's remake of Argentina's taut, troubling 2010 Oscar-winner doesn’t quite fall into the latter bracket — the ending isn’t egregiously re-engineered and no-one punches their way out of a coffin — but it is a weakened take on the tale, the spikiness of the original replaced with more generic thriller fodder.
It's a weakened take on the Argentinian tale, the spikiness of the original replaced with more generic thriller fodder.
Ray, as you'd expect from the Oscar-nominated writer of Captain Phillips, is most comfortable in confined spaces, and there are plenty of those. Chiwetel Ejiofor, the standout in a very handy cast, bulldozes his way from office to office as FBI man Ray Kasten, turning over metaphorical desks as he tries to solve a long-dormant murder case. One of those desks belongs to his ex, an assistant DA played with sympathetic restraint by Nicole Kidman; it would be tempting to slot in a clichéd spurned-lover subplot, but Ray wisely steers clear. Michael Kelly’s obstructive Fed does a nice line in slightly immature piss-taking as Kasten digs deeper (“Hey, you’re needed back at the stadium. Someone’s stolen third base”), while Alfred Molina brings hints of a ‘greater good’ motivation for the murder as a counter-terrorism bigwig.
But it’s Julia Roberts, de-glammed and raw, who does most of the emotional heavy-lifting as a woman broken by the death of her child. If her turn sometimes feels out of kilter in a largely subdued and underpowered thriller, the attempt to bring some fire to proceedings is welcome. But unlike in the Argentinian version, set in the wake of a fascist junta, the split timelines are confusing and the political context adds little to the tension. The post-9/11 setting now feels so familiar post-Homeland, maybe even filmmakers are starting to lose faith in its ability to deliver a mood of suspense.
A humdrum remake of a crackerjack thriller, this never gets out of second gear despite a classy cast and intriguing premise. Credit to Dean Norris for playing a character called Bumpy with an entirely straight face.