Movie reviews: Secret In Their Eyes, The Truth Commissioner, King Jack

Secret in Their Eyes 3/5
The Truth Commissioner 4/5
King Jack 4/5

 

Adapted from the Argentinean thriller El Secreto de Sus Ojos (2009), Secret in Their Eyes (15A) opens in the aftermath of 9/11, with an FBI unit led by Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Jess (Julia Roberts) monitoring a Los Angeles mosque reputed to be harbouring terrorists.

When the body of a murdered young woman is discovered in a dumpster near the mosque, their surveillance is compromised — but when Ray discovers that the young woman is Jess’s daughter Carolyn (Zoe Graham), their lives are changed forever.

Billy Ray, who adapted the screenplay and also directs, constructs a pacy revenge thriller from the raw material of Jess’s tragedy, as the story moves forward 13 years to the present day and Ray — now ex-FBI, and working as a private investigator — returns to Jess and their lawyer friend Claire (Nicole Kidman), now the district attorney, to inform them that he has tracked down the killer. 

It’s a more complex and layered story than the standard revenge thriller, however: just as the initial investigation into Carolyn’s murder was complicated for political reasons, Ray’s attempt to have the case reopened is frustrated by Jess’s unwillingness to reopen old wounds, particularly as the suspect is likely to escape conviction. 

There’s a distinct lack of chemistry between Kidman and Ejiofor, despite their supposed yearning for one another, but Ejiofor is much more persuasive as the dogged sleuth desperate for redemption. 

An unusually drab Roberts, meanwhile, is almost unrecognisable as the desolate Jess, and provides the movie with most of its electrifying emotional connections, although Billy Ray’s penchant for charging the story with unnecessary melodrama undermines much of the good work that has gone before.

The Truth Commissioner (12A) stars Roger Allam as Henry Stanfield, a specialist in conflict resolution appointed to a ‘truth commission’ designed to assist in a ‘healing and lasting peace’ in Northern Ireland. 

Stanfield quickly finds himself bogged down in local politics, however, as he tries to uncover the truth behind the murder of teenager Conor Walshe (Ciaran Flynn) two decades previously, a murder that implicates the Sinn Féin minister — and former IRA leader — Francis Gilroy (Sean McGinley). 

Adapted by Eoin O’Callaghan from David Parks’s novel of the same name, and directed by Declan Recks, The Truth Commissioner explores the human cost of maintaining the peace process in Northern Ireland. 

The truth doesn’t necessarily amount to justice, Stanfield states, and there are no easy answers offered in this occasionally harrowing glimpse behind the headlines of the Troubles and its grim litany of sectarian murder, State-sponsored brutality, cover-ups and collusion.

Allam is superb in the leading role, his bland and slightly hangdog features minutely expressive as Stanfield the outsider tries to come to terms with the moral morass he finds himself sliding into (Conleth Hill, playing the malign power behind Francis Gilroy’s throne, is equally impressive).

Enjoyable and labyrinthine, even if the pace is staid and too much of the action takes the form of evidence delivered to the truth commission, Recks’s film cleaves admirably close to its source material in exploring the extent to which the personal becomes the political when truth and history clash.

Written and directed by Felix Thompson, King Jack (15A) stars Charlie Plummer as the eponymous anti-hero (despite being known to all and sundry as Scab), a delinquent teenager. 

When Jack’s young cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) comes to stay for a few days, Jack is initially irritated at having to babysit Ben; but when Jack fights back against bully Shane (Danny Flaherty), the two boys find themselves on the run from Shane and his friends and engaged in a dangerously escalating game of tit-for-tat.

Told over a couple of days, with the world seen for the most part through Jack’s eyes, this is a coming-of-age epic in a minor key, with Jack learning hard lessons about himself as he negotiates the mean streets of his neighbourhood. 

Felix Thompson brilliantly evokes the terrors of teenage boyhood, the real dangers that come with fighting back against sociopathic bullies and the sense of isolation that goes hand-in-hand with being publicly identified as a victim.

Plummer is excellent as Jack, giving a performance reminiscent of a young River Phoenix, playing his character as a hardbitten but likeable loner, a boy all too aware of his own failings. 

Christian Madsen provides strong support as Jack’s older brother Tom, who was something of a bully himself as a younger man, his character reinforcing Thompson’s subtle but affecting exploration of the consequences of violence.


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