Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne)
Director : Guillaume Canet
Screenplay : Guillaume Canet & Philippe Lefebvre (based on the novel by Harlan Coben)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2006 (Europe) / 2008 (U.S.)
Stars : François Cluzet (Dr. Alexandre Beck), Marie-Josée Croze (Margot Beck), André Dussollier (Jacques Laurentin), Kristin Scott Thomas (Hélène Perkins), François Berléand (Eric Levkowitch), Nathalie Baye (Maître Elysabeth Feldman), Jean Rochefort (Gilbert Neuville), Marina Hands (Anne Beck), Gilles Lellouche (Bruno), Philippe Lefebvre (Lieutenant Philippe Meynard), Florence Thomassin (Charlotte Bertaud)
Tell No One (Ne le dis à personne) is a crafty French mystery-thriller about a man whose world is turned upside down when he is led to believe that his wife, who was murdered eight years ago, may still be alive. The man, Alex Beck, is a doctor, and he is played by François Cluzet, who looks not a bit unlike Dustin Hoffman. Thus, he has an affable, ordinary quality that makes it easy to identify with him when he’s struggling to digest the seemingly impossible and especially when he becomes the prototypical Hitchcockian wrongly accused man, running simultaneously from the police and a shadowy group of individuals who are intent on ensuring that he and his wife never reunite … assuming, of course, that she really is still alive.
At its best, Tell No One keeps a number of possibilities in the air and maintains a genuine sense of mystery right up until the talking villain starts explaining everything in the final reel (one of the film’s main weaknesses, but given the complicated nature of what has happened, I don’t know if there was a choice). The film weaves it labyrinthine plot in such a way that it is constantly forcing you to pay attention and fit the pieces together; it is not the kind of film where you can lapse in attention for even a few seconds, much less get up for a bathroom break. Characters are introduced without clear demarcations of who they are, and many conversations don’t make any real sense until you’re deep into them, which means you have to loop back and remember what the characters were first talking about. Cowriter/director Guillaume Canet and his coscreenwriter Philippe Lefebvre, who worked from a novel by Harlan Coben, don’t give anything away easily, and the film is a richer, more satisfying experience for it.
The story opens with Alex and his wife, Margot (Marie-Josée Croze), taking a trip to the lake where they first met as children and carved their names into a tree (the fact that they have known each other virtually their entire lives makes her loss that much more traumatic). After making love on a dock and having a small spat about Alex’s relationship with his sister (Marina Hands), Margot is attacked by unseen assailants and Alex is knocked unconscious. We then jump ahead eight years and, over a number of scenes, piece together that Margot was killed by a serial killer who is now in custody, although Alex was a prime suspect for a long time because his story didn’t entirely add up (if he was knocked unconscious and fell in the lake, why didn’t he drown?). Alex now lives a fairly solitary existence, with only his sister and his sister’s wife (Kristin Scott-Thomas) as friends. He also makes a yearly pilgrimage to dine with Margot’s parents on the anniversary of her death.
Then Alex begins receiving a series of mysterious e-mails, one of which has a link to a video file that appears to show Margot walking into a subway tunnel. The e-mails themselves seem to be coming from her, as they contain information that only she would know. Yet, we also see that Alex’s computer is being monitored by someone (government agents? police? organized crime?), so there are clearly complicated machinations afoot that will soon send Alex on a perilous two-day journey to discover the truth about his wife’s murder. This journey is complicated by the fact that two bodies have been discovered near the site where Margot was killed, which leads the police to suspect Alex all over again, especially when one of Margot’s friends is then murdered and all the evidence seems to point toward him.
For all the strength of its narrative and the urgency it develops, Tell No One has a few stumbling blocks, including an almost embarrassing use of American pop music to underscore several emotional montages. It is not just that the montages themselves seem lazy and cliché, but Canet has chosen songs who lyrics literally comment on what is happening. And, unless you’re Tom Cruise flying along to Cheap Trick’s “Mighty Wings,” there is no faster way to cheese-ify a thriller than to laden it with “meaningful” pop songs (see also Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky). And, while the plot itself is about as airtight as a thriller of this type can be (for once, the big revelation is not a let-down, but rather a fascinating and chilling indictment of entrenched power structures), there are a few conveniences that feel a bit too convenient, particularly Bruno (Gilles Lellouche), a tough gangster who is willing to help Alex on his quest by guiding him through the Parisian criminal underworld (and saving his life a few times) because Alex treated his hemophiliac son three years earlier. Those issues aside, Tell No One is an absorbing thriller, one that works its narrative complications over a genuinely moving emotional foundation and is spiked with just enough dark humor to keep it from becoming overly serious.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © THINKfilm