Tell No One (2008) dir. Guillaume Canet
Starring: François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze, André Dussollier, Kristin Scott-Thomas
“Tell No One”, a French whodonit mystery, does just about everything right. It’s an airtight thriller from that Hitchcockian point of view of a man accused of a crime he didn’t commit. By it’s very nature most whodunits have to end the same, that is the lame expository speech which connects all the pieces of the puzzle. Because “Tell No One” can’t avoid this hurdle it’s a * short of truly succeeding. But for three quarters of the film it's pot-boiling plot-thickening mystery at it’s best.
Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet) is a doctor whose wife Margot (Marie-Josee Croze) was murdered eight years ago. On the anniversary of her death Alex receives an email from Margot. What? How is this possible? I’ll end the plot synopsis here, because this is all you really need to know to get entangled into the complex games of deception, murder and revenge which unravels itself masterfully.
The author of the novel is Harlan Coben, a name I only knew from a bus ad, which referred to him as “the modern master of the hook and twist”. I’m still not sure of what a ‘hook and twist’ is, but I remembered his name. Looking him up in Wikipedia revealed he is a prolific author of mystery novels – the disposable paperback type you’d see in an Airport, or a gas station.
And so it comes as no surprise that “Tell No One” contains not an ounce of character development, or theme, or metaphor, just plot - 100% snaking, twisting and coiling plot. But Coben does it very well, and he dots his eyes, crosses his t’s and fills all the plot holes. There’s certainly talent in doing that, because I’ve seen too many thrillers that couldn’t plug their plot holes.
Writer/Director Canet has lots of fun with Coben’s thrill ride. He relishes teasing us with information, then revealing a secret, then twisting it into something else. Since we’re in the shoes of Francois as he discovers information, so do we. He’s a resourceful hero, much like Dr. Richard Kimble in “The Fugitive”. Not only is he a suspect in the reinvestigation of his wife’s murder, he’s searching for that very person who’s supposed to be dead. Though there’s very little traditional action, Alex is constantly in conflict, evading cops and thugs and figuring out all the angles. Late in the second act though Canet does give us one fantastic and lengthy chase scene, which had me gasping in several places at Alex’s numerous near-misses.
While the plot unravels itself masterfully, it has much trouble wrapping itself up. The real skill in the genre is finding a satisfactory resolution without resorting to what I call that “Scooby Doo” scene where an expository confession speech ties all the loose threads and mysteries in the film. In “Tell No One” Coben and Canet dig themselves such a deep trough of plot, it’s impossible to dig themselves out without cheating. So we do get that speech I was dreading. And since it’s the ending of the film, it leaves a sour taste in and otherwise fantastic film.
But it’s been a while since we’ve seen a film like this in the theatres, and lowering your expectations should produce a great two hours of disposable entertainment. Enjoy.