5 August 2008 | Quinoa1984
a pretzel factory of a thriller; convoluted but compulsively watchable
It's easy to see how it can be done, but only so often do we get some good 'knock-offs' of Hitchcock films. Sometimes we get outright homages like with Brian De Palma, or we get cheap rip-offs that some of us never see unless digging deep into the thriller bin at Blockbuster. Luckily, the French seem to have it licked, and in this case director Guillaume Canet takes Harlan Coben's pot-boiler and makes it into riveting if not quite linear film-making. You have to stay with the picture as it goes along- at times you may get so confused you'll want to give up- but if you can give yourself just a bit to the twists and paranoia, it's very rewarding.
It's in very simple terms about Alex (Dustin Hoffman look-alike François Cluzet) and his wife Margot (stunning-looking Marie-Josee Croze), who one night go skinny dipping and... no, not one of 'those' movies (slasher). But murder is involved, and we're made to believe Margot was killed and Alex was knocked unconscious that night. Then the story jumps ahead eight years later, when Dr. Alex Beck is now living alone and still sort of mourning his wife as the anniversary of her death comes around. And yet, even as the case seemed to be closed, the police still have suspicions about Alex since he doesn't remember how he got out of the water onto the dock before being knocked out. Another two bodies are found buried near the original murder site, and the case is reopened, with Alex now once again a suspect. Then something else happens...
I don't want to mention much else, for fear of spoiling the daylights (or just boring the hell out of you with exposition), but suffice to say it becomes a mix of elements from the likes of Fugitive, Vertigo (yes, Vertigo, at least one element anyway), and several of Hitchcock's "wrong man on the run" movies. There are things that the director does to keep things moving and fast-paced for fans of real hardcore thrillers (a chase midway through the film might just top Fugitive for sheer audacious move on the part of the hero), but he also makes the audience pay attention very closely to details. Just a subtle close-up of a computer screen with a 'new email', or a moment with Alex's dog, or even a U2 song. And it's crucial to keep up with small scenes that shouldn't seem like they mean much; the director understands all of the components of a warped mystery where characters and motives and even simple twists in a single bound are not what they seem.
Luckily, there is time in the last section of the story where a certain character (I won't say who but it's an older one) who can expound on the exposition that thankfully puts most of the pieces of the story into place. But then even after things are explained, it gets one talking about what's just happened, if everything made sense, and not in that "damn that was no good, too confusing" way. It doesn't underestimate the audience's intelligence or manner to keep up with a story that involves murder, love, lust, cover-ups, power-plays, old rich French guys, and and even a sliver of social commentary at one point. And the cast is uniformly terrific; saying that Clement is like Dustin Hoffman isn't just as comparison in looks, as he's really got the stuff to lead this film as someone you want to stick with 100% (if not the Cary Grant type, then certainly Jimmy Stewart); Cruze, for her moments on screen, is gorgeous and sad and happy and all those things that make up a mysterious character; Kristen Scott Thomas- yes, Kristin Scott Thomas speaks French- is amazing for her time as a supporting character. And don't get me started on the guy who played Margot's father.
It's a work of minor brilliance that, unfortunately, loses its footing in the last couple of minutes with a sentimental coda. For the most part, Tell No One is what we want to see often in American movies, but usually people aren't strong enough to just put it out there without mucking up the style. Canet is a strong director, great with a lost-in-a-pretzel-factory story, and it takes its place alongside the likes of With a Friend Like Harry, Red Lights and The Beat That My Heart Skipped as one of the superlative neo-noirs of 21st century French cinema. Sleeper-tastic!