Tell No One

September, 2008, Thriller

Directed by:Guillaume Canet

Starring:François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Nathalie Baye

Crime novelist Harlan Coben is an acquired taste; gifted with convoluted plotting skills and a hyperactive imagination but seriously deficient in character development and crafting the appropriate mood for his storylines, this prolific, commercially successful author has until now not seen a single one of his many novels brought to the screen. It took 35 year old French actor Guillaume Canet to pull off Coben’s maiden voyage to the big screen and until the movie’s final 15 minutes, when it limps across the finish line, Tell No One makes for a competent, diverting thriller. 

With roles in over three dozen films to his credit, Canet ranks as one of France’s leading actors, but he turns screenwriter/director here, pruning Coben’s wordy novel into an initially taut and puzzling script which he directs with appealing brio. 

Dr. Alex Beck, (Francois Cluzet) a pediatrician any doting mom would kill for, goes for a midnight skinny-dip with his wife Margot, (Marie-Josee Croze) on a private lake owned by his family. While he’s still offshore, Margot’s attacked as she returns to shore in order to dry herself off and put her clothes back on. Racing to her aid, Alex gets knocked unconscious while Margot is brutally murdered. Her father identifies the body and despite the very suspicious circumstances, when Alex comes out of a coma he’s able to survive close police scrutiny. He’s reluctantly cleared as a suspect in his wife’s murder.

Eight years pass before two bodies - - both male - - are uncovered during the excavation for a new water line near Margot’s murder site. Shortly thereafter, Alex begins to receive ominous e-mails suggesting that his wife may still be alive. Yet even as he manically searches for clues as to the source of this information, the police renew their suspicion of him when they investigate the newly discovered pair of corpses only to discover apparently fresh evidence of Alex’s role in Margot’s murder. Enlisting the help of Bruno, (the gangster parent of one of Alex’s young patients) the doctor “goes on the lam”, racing (1) to find out if his beloved is still alive and (2) to determine who’s framing him for a murder which may never have been committed in the first place.

The first few reels of this 2+ hour whodunit work quite well; as a writer, Canet is no great shakes, but he moves his attractive cast through their paces with a good measure of assurance and when Alex is forced to hit the bricks to avoid being arrested by the police, the director delivers an exciting high-speed chase through some of the more unsavory parts of Paris. In doing so, Canet slyly captures a number of his country’s current social ills; racism, an antagonistic attitude towards the police, urban poverty and the crime which flows from it. Alex and his lowlife muscle he deploys slickly provide the doctor with sufficient time and opportunity to unravel the increasingly convincing net of circumstantial evidence piling up against him. 

As is often true of the films in this genre, the greater the plot complexity, the more preposterous its final explanation; when that’s delivered in a climatic stream-of-consciousness rant by the villain, any film’s momentum flies off the rails. (A prime example? That lame re-make of the classic Cary Grant romantic thriller Charade, re-made as The Truth About Charlie.) When the pieces of Tell No One’s puzzle finally fall into place, they’re so contrived and implausible the audience can be forgiven for thinking its been had, an impression the director then rewards with an especially hokey two-scene final fadeout. But who’s to say that Coben’s work deserves anything better?

Surprisingly, this above-average but hardly brilliant movie won 4 Cesars, (France’s equivalent of the Oscars) including one for Canet as director and another for Cluzet’s as the film’s lead. (Imagine Andrew Davis and Harrison Ford garnering similar Academy Awards 15 years ago for their work in The Fugitive, a film significantly more exciting and professionally-crafted than this one.) The French may produce cuisine that’s the envy of gourmands everywhere, but when it comes to suspense cinema, Hollywood still reigns supreme. 

The verdict? It’s certainly worth a bag of popcorn and the price of admission, but you don’t have to feel badly if you wait until it’s released on DVD. 

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