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REVIEWS OF ROOM & SECRET IN THEIR EYES

year: 2015
ROOM: This is an intriguing indie film that really takes its time to figure things out, headlined by the intensity of a young girl simply called Ma, played by Brie Larson, raising her son, Jack... who looks very much like a long-haired little girl... in a "room" that has only a sun-roof window and other necessities, resembling a tiny white trash studio apartment.

The harsh reality that slowly unveils means everything, and yet, what's really important is the kind of LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL theme of a parent allowing her child to become fully accustomed to a nightmarish situation without a clue that anything is wrong. This is how half the movie plays out, and it's a neatly timed, often intense ride. And yet, since the kidnapper resembles a passive bearded accountant, mother and son never seem in that much danger whenever the suspense mounts. Perhaps this is intentional to make their situation feel mundane, and thus, even more creepy and ironic. And to mention too much about the last half would be a spoiler, but it involves our two main characters struggling to accustom themselves to something quite different than what they, and the audience, experienced, and in that aspect, ROOM, no matter where the location, keeps us closely in touch with the people that matter without too many distractions.

year: 2015
SECRET IN THEIR EYES: Well it's a somewhat familiar story: a parent driven by revenge sets out after the man who killed their kid. But really, SECRET involves a co-worker, returned to the FBI or CIA or... some group connected to the now infamous Bush-headed Homeland Security following 911... who's rabidly out to get the guy that murdered the teenage daughter of Julia Roberts' character, Jess.

Despite being promoted as Julia's film, the buried lead is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Ray, convinced that, after 13-years, he's found the culprit, who was never imprisoned. In that he's pretty much alone, despite having an entire office of former workmates including Nicole Kidman, Dean Norris and Michael Kelly on his side... The latter a tad shady, connected to a close-minded group centered on investigating a Mosque to find out who might be setting up the next New York City bombing: as the story skips from 2001 to 2014 in a somewhat clunky fashion. Ray's hair gets slightly grayed; Julia's a bit longer; and Dean Norris has an awful limp to differentiate decades. Yet the real tragedy of this would be "thriller" is the lack of character-development as the group never seems like a connected whole, lacking chemistry and energy to drive their story forward. Especially Norris and Kelly, both scene-stealing gems on cable TV shows BREAKING BAD and HOUSE OF CARDS, coming across pretty dull on the big screen while Ray's blunt attraction to Kidman's in-charge Claire provides a worthless romantic peripheral.

There are a few nicely filmed, suspenseful chase scenes involving the good guys verses the killer, whose entire significance to the story/case, if mentioned at all, would give too much away. Thus, overall, SECRET IN THEIR EYES feels catered to mainstream opening night audiences, lacking the kind of dark, brooding intensity it desperately strives for. And despite the genuine tragedy of a woman's kid being murdered, we never get to know the real life mother/daughter relationship to equal the heavy-handed, melodramatic aftermath.

ROOM: ***1/2
SECRET IN THEIR EYES: **1/2
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