Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saturday Night at the Movies: "Tell No One"

Welcome to "Saturday Night at the Movies," a weekly feature in which I recommend an older title that you can go watch, right this very minute (provided you have Netflix Instant).

Guillaume Canet's Tell No One is that rarest of cinematic beasts, a thriller that actually thrills. It's an efficient and intelligent entertainment, expertly balancing a labyrinth plot, genuine suspense, and an "innocent man wrongly accused" narrative that Hitchcock would have been proud of. It is, simply speaking, a crackerjack picture.

An evocative opening sequence introduces us (with considerable help from the music of Otis Redding) to the idyllic romance of Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet) and his wife Anne (Marie-Josée Croze). These things don't last for long, of course; she's murdered by attackers that put him in a coma, and we jump ahead eight years. He still hasn't let go of her, which isn't helped by the arrival of an email in his inbox that appears to have come from her. Around the same time, a grisly discovery near the scene of the crime begins to call into doubt his innocence in her murder, which isn't helped by a new murder in which he looks very guilty.

Canet's screenplay (based on the American novel by Harlan Coben) is like a "how-to" manual for suspense scriptwriting; the exposition is handled in subtle dialogue and well-chosen images, there's not a wasted scene or character, and the immediacy of Beck's situation is clearly conveyed. Canet's direction picks it up from there, steadily quickening the pace in the second act and building to several moments of unbearable suspense--particularly in a remarkable sequence at an Internet café that immediately subverts our expectations.

Most importantly, Canet trusts his audience--exponentially more than comparable American thrillers, in fact. The first act is busy to a point of near-convolution, but we're never lost and we're certainly never bored. Even in its setup, Tell No One is intriguing, creating a sense of dread and expectation similar to (but, for my money, never delivered on by) Michael Haneke's Caché. Once the wheels are in motion, the second act pays them off beautifully, particularly in a breathless foot chase around the one-hour mark that expertly utilizes skillful cutting, handheld and POV camerawork, and a terrific piece of score by Mathieu Chedid. When it all finally comes together, this reviewer both gasped and chuckled; the closing sequence is a stunner, richly rewarding and tremendously satisfying.

Performances are spot-on throughout. Cluzet conveys just the right amount of everyman pluck as Beck, while Kristin Scott-Thomas (apparently going through a French cinema phase) brings the right amount of concern and toughness to her turn as his sister-in-law. François Berléand brings such richness and dimension to his role as the police captain on the case that you wish he had a film of his own. And André Dussolier, as Margot's father, turns in a fascinating two-part performance as a man who not only grieves for his daughter, but is irrevocably bruised by the things he has seen.

Don't let the subtitles scare you away, casual cinema fans: Tell No One is a tight, terrific thriller, thoroughly engrossing and blisteringly intelligent. Hollywood hasn't made a suspense picture this successful in years; hopefully some of the brighter writers and directors out there will give this one a spin and take some notes on how it's done.

-Orginally written 3/09

"Tell No One" is available on DVD and Blu-ray, or for Instant Viewing via Netflix.


  1. I truly enjoyed this film; the Harlan Coben novel is well-worth the read in advance since it has aspects of "edge-of-the-seat" that the movie can't get away with. I truly didn't know the full aspect of the murder and cover-up until reading the novel's very last sentence!

    The film is perhaps a little intimidating to those who have no inclination to know about the French people and modern France and its social / cultural class conflicts. The film has to make more of the Equesterian elites and how the ruling types can get away with chargeable crimes far too often. The film is great and visually excellent. Thanks for featuring it here on your blog! Great writing!

  2. Thanks for reading, Tim! One of these days I'll get around to reading the book...