DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Tell No One

Thursday 6 October 2011

Tell No One

Tell No One (2008) dir. Guillaume Canet
Starring: François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze, André Dussollier, Kristin Scott-Thomas


By Alan Bacchus

Tell No One, a French whodunit 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 their very nature, most whodunits have to end the same way with a lame expository speech that 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 its 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 in the complex games of deception, murder and revenge that unravel themselves 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 what a ‘hook and twist’ is, but I remembered his name. Looking him up on Wikipedia revealed that he is a prolific author of mystery novels – the disposable paperback type you’d see in an airport or 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 i's, 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 re-investigation 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 a lot of 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 up 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 an otherwise fantastic film.

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