Tell everyone about thrilling 'Tell No One'

Review A-

July 18, 2008|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

The title Tell No One recalls the days when ads proclaimed, "No one will be seated after the first 15 minutes" and "Be considerate of your neighbors: Don't give away the ending of this picture." Both rules apply to this canny, refreshingly emotional and intuitive thriller.

Adapting Harlan Coben's American suspense novel to French locales that shift from city grays to country greens - and from swank to grungy - this film does what some of the best Hollywood thrillers used to do, from The Big Clock (1948) to L.A. Confidential (1997). It's not a roller coaster but a high-speed train, ratcheting through dark tunnels and maintaining its momentum on precipitous turns. It makes just enough stops for you to drink in the dense atmosphere and recognize the structure of a society built on secrets and lies.

The hero is Paris-based pediatrician Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet), who breaks the bounds of bourgeois good taste when he never stops mourning for his wife, Margot (Marie-Josee Croze), who was abducted and savagely murdered at the rural lake where they swam as kids. (They grew up in a town northwest of Paris.) On the eighth anniversary of her death, he receives an e-mail containing a link to a video Web site where he thinks he spots her alive. The e-mail comes with the warning "tell no one," because people will be watching.

Tell No One derives its energy from the colliding nerve-endings of clashing characters rather than from trumped-up climaxes and explosions. The murder mystery gives the narrative a clear-cut goal - this good doctor won't stop asking questions until he finds out how and why his wife was kidnapped and killed, or whether she was killed at all. The police cleared him of his wife's murder. When he's accused of a second killing, he'll fight tooth and nail to restore his good name.

As Alex pursues his quest for truth, the director and cowriter, Guillaume Canet, never leaves the tensions of everyday life behind. Tell No One, without pretensions, uses the framework of a man-in-jeopardy movie to paint a picture of upward mobility that appears to be universal. Alex is an ideal middle-class man: modest, principled and accomplished. The people around him often prove too compromising and ambitious for their own or anyone else's good. Everyone from an august aristocrat (Jean Rochefort) and his equestrian-champ son (played by Canet) to a street-gang boss (Gilles Lellouche) and his ailing boy either falls into or fights Alex's crusade. The doctor's feel for quotidian detail informs his detective work. The movie, like its hero, is shrewd about the small lies and mini-corruptions that can lead to major crimes.

American-fugitive pictures allocate the hero or antihero one companion (usually of the opposite sex, to provide amorous tension) and one sympathetic figure among the proper legal authorities. In Tell No Lies, it takes a village to help an innocent man find the truly guilty parties and wipe his reputation clean. The film is full of sharp characters caught on the run. They include Kristin Scott Thomas as the worldly-wise mate of Alex's aspiring equestrienne sister (Marina Hands), Nathalie Baye as his vividly pragmatic lawyer, and Florence Thomassin as a photographer friend whose face is a study in fleet observations and suggestions.

Obviously, director Canet is comfortable with women, but he's just as deft and affectionate with male supporting actors such as Francois Berleands, playing a mensch of a police detective who is considerate to his mother and fair toward Alex. A streak of black comedy enlivens the film's mid-section: To protect Alex, the gang leader must take extreme actions. By then, the doctor is the one who can't control his temper.

For once, you can't see the surprises coming. More important, you develop a huge stake in the outcome. Equal credit goes to Canet's unselfconscious craftsmanship - there isn't a show-off shot in the movie - and to Cluzet's ardent performance. He looks and acts a bit like Mandy Patinkin but with all the excesses burned away. His love for Margot is the song in his heart. It's wonderful that Alex and Margot were childhood sweethearts. It makes his sorely tested devotion overwhelmingly romantic.

The killer chases are foot-races; indeed, Cluzet may be the finest impromptu sprinter in movies since Kevin Costner in No Way Out (1987) and Franka Potente in Run Lola Run (1998). There's nothing else pedestrian in Tell No One. It gives you an emotional workout and braces you to meet the day.

Tell No One

(Music Box Films) Starring Francois Cluzet. Directed by Guillaume Canet. Unrated. Time 125 minutes.

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