"Tell No One" is an interesting suspense movie, but I think it may be more interesting because it is a French take on a very American thriller. Based on a book by American author Harlan Coben, director Guillame Canet, takes a very American premise for a thriller, and leaves all of the familiar problems with the genre intact while resetting the story in Paris and the south of France. If the actors didn't speak French, I would half expect Michael Douglas to pop up playing the lead and the current 'flavor of the month' to play his romantic lead and/ or the girl in jeopardy.
Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet) and his wife, Margot (Marie-Josee Croze) have been friends and lovers since they were kids, they continue to visit a lake in the South of France their families brought them to, even after they get married. They have a summer house nearby and mark each visit with a stop at an old tree. When they were younger, they carved their initials in the bark. Now, on every visit, they add a hash mark to signify how long they have been together. They visit the lake at night and Margot quickly jumps into the lake, skinny-dipping, and swims to the wooden platform anchored a few hundred yards offshore. Alexandre joins her and they relax for a bit. But something is bothering Margot and they quarrel, leading her to swim back alone. As Alexandre stays at the platform, trying to figure out how to deal with the argument, he hears a scream. Then silence. He starts swimming back, stopping halfway to call out her name. She screams out and he continues swimming as fast as he can, scrambling to get back to her. Climbing on the dock, Alex is quickly attacked. Waking up a few days later, he finds his wife has been brutally murdered by a serial killer. Eight years later, Alex is now a pediatrician relying on his family for support. He seems closest to Helene (Kristin Scott Thomas, "The English Patient", "Random Hearts", "Mission: Impossible"), the lover of his younger sister, Anne (Marina Hinds), a gifted Equestrian jumper. He goes to visit Margot's parents, but her father, a retired police chief (Andre Dussolier), gives him a frosty greeting and he soon leaves. Then, a day before their anniversary, he gets e-mail with a link. "Check the link at 6:15 on our anniversary". He waits and waits, but it won't work until that time. As he waits, the police find two dead bodies near where his wife was found, casting doubt on whether she was the victim of a serial killer and reopen the investigation, making Alex suspect number one. When he is finally able to use the link, he sees video of his wife entering a subway station, playing in real time. She turns to the camera. Then a new e-mail arrives. "Tell No One".
Thus begins the new French thriller "Tell No One" ("Ne Le Dis A Personne"). Adapted and directed by Canet, who splits his time as an actor and a director, the film has very serious roots in the genre of American Thrillers, the type that spend so much time making us guess, always turning the tables, never letting us figure out what is going on, that when the climax finally arrives, the guilty party, or parties, begins a monologue explaining their every moment involved in the scheme. But the film is better than say "Don't Say A Word", the routine thriller starring Michael Douglas and Brittany Murphy that came out a few years ago. The actors make the performances more interesting and the film seems to be tighter than most American entries in this genre. Maybe it's because everyone is speaking French and I wasn't able to so quickly identify when the plot holes happen. Maybe it's because the French language is so beautiful that every film they make is just so good. No, that can't be it. After "Irreversible", I almost never wanted to see another French film in my life. "Tell No One" is better than the average American fare. But only just slightly. But why?
A large part of the success of this film lies with Francois Cluzet, the actor who plays Alexandre Beck. Too often in American thrillers, the hero, who usually ends up suspected of a crime, suddenly develops skills and traits he never knew he had, skills and traits more commonly suited to a superhero or spy. In "Tell No One", Beck remains pretty consistent. He is a pediatrician, who has been in love with the same woman for years and years. Eight years later, he is functioning, but just. He goes to work, shuns his family, and keeps things going. When he gets an anonymous e-mail with a link to a live video feed, he becomes intrigued. This happens at about the same time the police reopen the investigation into his wife's death. Naturally, he tries to keep one step ahead of everyone. Thankfully, he doesn’t suddenly develop the ability to shoot guns with the skill of a marksman or the ability to create explosions out of a paperclip and rubber band. When various people pursue him, he runs. And runs. And almost gets hit by a car. When things get a little too dicey, he calls on the father of one of his patients to help him out. Conveniently, the father is a gangster and has certain skills and connections that are valuable to Alex.
Overall, Cluzet makes this character all the more believable because he is pretty even keel. Alex's emotional range doesn't veer too far either way. When we rejoin him eight years after his wife's death, he is coping. He goes to work, meets people, and has dinner with friends. But he isn't enjoying his life. Then two things happen. The police find two bodies buried near his wife's murder site and he gets the e-mail with the link to video. This sends Beck on a Hitchcock-like race to try to solve the crime, while staying away from the police. As he interacts with his family, and the family of his dead wife, we see some of their pain as well. And we get a sense he realizes this, he knows they are in pain, yet they spend most of their time trying to help him. He is grateful for it, but also feels a bit suffocated.
Canet & Cluzet seem to go to great lengths to give us little glimpses into Alex's life, making him more interesting, less cookie cutter and more believable.
When Alex calls on the father – gangster, the narrative becomes a little dicey. On the one hand, it is better that he calls on someone who has the skills and connections he needs to allude a bunch of murderous, shady characters and the police. But on the other hand, it seems a little too convenient that this guy is available, in debt to Alex, used and pops up at the strangest, most opportune times. It also seems a little too "American" that a gang of henchmen (and one wicked henchwoman), in the employ of the main villain, are able to pretty much do whatever they want, killing innocent bystanders in the process, with elaborate methods, without police involvement or notice of the general public.
Kristin Scott-Thomas plays Helene, the lesbian lover of Alex's younger sister. As she and Alex are more the same age, you see the connection between them. They meet for lunch at the restaurant Helene manages and she casts a glance at a pretty female server, causing Alex to give her a raised eyebrow. They seem more like best friends, so when Alex runs into trouble, he turns to her for help and guidance. And she starts to poke around, asking some questions, giving him some help and also hires a powerful lawyer to represent him. It is a nice role for the British actress who now lives in France (she has appeared in over 20 French films). Perhaps she is transitioning to a new stage in her life, meaty supporting roles, because the starring roles seem to have left her at roadside.
The rest of the cast is equally strong and filled with a couple of very recognizable, well-known French character actors. Much like an American thriller, these stars pop up in supporting roles, playing important characters that may or may not have a connection to the story. We won't find out until late in the film. And these characters cover the spectrum of class and society, proving the case is very widespread with a lot of conspiracy involved. Perhaps the most recognizable is Jean Rochefort ("The Man on the Train", "Mr. Bean's Holiday") who plays Gilbert Neuville, a rich Senator who raises horses for competition. His connection to the story begins with Alex's younger sister, who rides Neuville's horses professionally. Nathalie Baye ("Catch Me If You Can") plays a high-powered attorney who helps Alex with his problems, at the behest of Helene. Andre Dussolier plays Margot's father, the retired police captain. He provided the narration for the film "Amelie" and had a role in "A Very Long Engagement". And there are many others. The story has two sets of police officers, at least three henchmen, various gangsters and much, much more.
Director Canet fills the story with characters in an effort to keep the audience guessing. This also seems to be a very 'American' technique, keep the audience on their toes until the big climax, when everything is revealed. Whether it makes sense or not. And the resolution doesn't entirely make sense because we simply aren't given all of the information, yet another trademark of most American thrillers. In the end, Alex meets the person or people responsible and they have to tell him everything that happened and we can see now scenes as they relate the events, because we haven't seen any of this before. It is sloppy at best and does a disservice to an otherwise interesting French film.
Canet uses an interesting technique a couple of times. When Alex is remembering a key event, the action 'telescopes' back, through a couple of scenes, to show us a moment, then moves to another moment. A few times, we return to Alex and Margot's trips to the lakes as kids. They have been in love a long time and this adds a nice touching moment to the story. But it also points out a problem. Cluzet is clearly at least ten years older than Marie-Josee Croze, who plays his wife. Yet, as we see them as kids, they appear to be exactly the same age. So it is a little difficult to buy this type of thing.
"Tell No One" is a good, mixed effort. If you have seen any American thrillers, you will probably recognize all of the signs. But because the director gives his lead character some time to build relationships, giving us time to become a part of his world, the story seems more convincing and more interesting.