By Esther Zuckerman
Updated March 23, 2015 at 06:05 PM EDT

Writer-director Billy Ray knows he set forth a challenge for himself when deciding to remake the 2009 Argentine film The Secret in Their Eyes. “If you’re not terrified when you’re making a movie like this, you’re just not awake,” he told EW. “You’re making a movie that’s already won an Academy Award, so the bar is set pretty high.”

Another reason for the high bar? His cast. Ray’s version, Secret in Their Eyes, stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, and Nicole Kidman as the FBI investigators and District Attorney supervisor, respectively, who are divided when a girl is murdered. Years later, Ejiofor’s character finds a new lead. “When I sat down to write the movie, I thought I was writing a movie about loss. It turned out that the movie wanted to be about something else,” Ray explained. “The movie wanted to be about obsession. It wanted to be about these people that are frozen for 13 years because this horrible crime has torn all their lives apart and none of them can get unstuck, and then here comes Ray, played by Chiwetel, who decides he knows a way to unstick them. And then he proceeds to try to do that and with varying degrees of willingness they let him.”

For Ray, writer of Captain Phillips and The Hunger Games, this is a return to the director’s chair following 2007’s Breach. While this was a story that captivated Ray, he did make some adjustments in adapting the film from its Argentine predecessor.

“I felt that as great as that movie is, and I literally mean great, I felt that it needed to be made into a slightly more muscular version of itself, and that just meant it needed a little bit more story and a couple of things I thought were sort of uniquely American touches to justify retelling the story,” he said. “I’m pretty confident we found all that.”

While all the actors brought their “A game,” according to Ray, the movie will also offer a chance for audiences to see Roberts in a new light as she taps her “capacity to play pain and range.”

“Julia has never played a character like this, and it’s an opportunity for the world at large to see her do something she’s never done before, and it’s pretty breathtaking,” he said.

The film, which will be released by STX Entertainment and IM Global, is due out Oct. 23.

Secret in Their Eyes

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 111 minutes
  • Billy Ray