Film Review: Tell No One

French Thriller Slow-Burns Its Way To A Complex Wrap-Up

Devin D. O'Leary
4 min read
Tell No One
The 2008 Renault Le Car. Très roomy.
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The French don’t pump out nearly the same volume of films as they used to. But the Frenchies who are still fighting the system and getting their films out as far as the States are a consistently impressive bunch. Guys like Claude Chabrol ( A Girl Cut in Two, The Flower of Evil, Hell ), François Ozon ( The Swimming Pool, Water Drops on Burning Rocks, Criminal Lovers ) and Claude Lelouch ( Roman de Gare ), and ladies like Catherine Breillat ( Anatomy of Hell, Fat Girl ) are fluent in the European language of sex, violence and noirish tension.

Tell No One , based on the book by American crime novelist Harlan Coben, is the latest Gallic thriller to arrive in American art house theaters. It is written and directed by Guillaume Canet, a heartthrob actor who’s put a few filmmaking credits under his belt in the last decade or so. A major hit in its native France, the film is rapidly becoming a word-of-mouth success stateside for its effective recycling of traditional murder mystery elements.

François Cluzet (
’Round Midnight, Chocolat and several of Chabrol’s efforts) stars as Dr. Alexandre Beck, a French pediatrician happily married to his childhood sweetheart, Margot (Marie-Josée Croze, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly ). One night, while skinnydipping at a rural lake–the site of the couple’s favorite rendezvous–Margot goes missing. Alex is beaten unconscious and Margot’s body is found several days later, the victim of a brutal serial killer. Skip forward eight years: Alex is still trying to get over the loss of his beloved wife, immersing himself in work, occasionally drinking too much and visiting his in-laws every year like clockwork on the anniversary of his wife’s murder.

One day, our man finds a confusing e-mail on his computer. It seems to show recent security camera footage of his dead wife. Is it possible she’s not actually dead? If not, where has she been for the last eight years? The mysterious e-mails keep coming, each containing a vital bit of information that only Alex’s wife could know and exhorting him to follow the titular advice to “tell no one.”

Alex tries to puzzle out this mystery using his amateur investigative skills, but bodies start piling up around him, leaving him the No. 1 suspect. Borrowing more than a little inspiration from
The Fugitive , the film soon finds Dr. Beck on the run from police trying to prove his innocence and figure out what the heck is going on.

Despite a couple of heart-thumping moments (a car-crunching freeway foot race, for example),
Tell No One keeps its tension on the slow-burn setting. This is a film for people who like their mysteries intellectual and puzzle-filled. Initially, the film gives us little information to go on. We don’t know much about the characters and their interactions. We’re not even sure of our hero’s innocence. Credit goes to Cluzet and his Dustin Hoffman-esque everyman persona for keeping audiences well-invested in the main character’s outcome.

The setup for
Tell No One is a humdinger, all right, but it’s hard to judge whether the pieces fit together in an entirely logical layout. Rest assured, armchair detectives, there are plenty of twists and turns to be had in this head-scratcher. However, any mystery this complex is going to require one hell of an explanation. Tell No One ’s talky, flashback-heavy “whodunit” sequence provides all the answers, but at the sacrifice of some serious forward momentum. The problem here is not an excess of loose ends but a surfeit of neat bows. Word of advice: Take a leak before the climax, it’s gonna be a long one.

Ultimately, you could say the film’s narrative is less interesting than what’s wrapped around it. That’s the clever casting (including Kristin Scott Thomas as the wife of Alex’s sister), the sympathetic work of main man Cluzet and Canet’s character-driven direction. Even with its narrative flaws,
Tell No One is a tightly controlled crime drama that provides thrills both emotional and intellectual.
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