Return to Sender
A widower gets a message from the grave
by Jason Blair
TELL NO ONE: Directed by Guillaume Canet. Written by Guillaume Canet and Phillipe Lefebvre, based on the book by Harlan Coben. Cinematography, Christophe Offenstein. Music, Mathieu Chadid. Starring Francois Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze and Kristin Scott Thomas. Europa, 2008. Unrated. 125 minutes.
A man and a woman lie nestled on a dock in the moonlight, alone in the center of a lake. They quarrel. She swims to shore. Out of sight, she screams his name. Frantically he leaps into the water to save her, only to be clubbed, as he climbs the other dock, by what appears to be a baseball bat. Fade to black.
Now that’s the way to build a thriller. Morbid, yes, but full of possibilities, Tell No One is a layered and complex creation, a ripe fruit just when summer looked barren of anything to savor.
Eight years after his wife’s death, Alex (Francois Cluzet) still longs for Margot (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s Marie-Josée Croze). When an email arrives claiming to be from Margot, his devotion makes him the perfect victim — at whose hands we aren’t exactly sure — or the perfect husband who never gave up on true love. As Alex sorts through the possibilities, two bodies are found in the vicinity of the lake, at which point the police, who have suspected Alex all along, reopen the case with a vengeance. Part of the success of Tell No One is that it manages to present every possibility convincingly, much in the same way great novels do, and to such a degree that you can’t help wondering if perhaps the cops have it right. After all, how did Alex emerge from the water on the night of his wife’s murder? Who made the 911 call that alerted police to the crime? These and other mysteries raise suspicions that, once they begin to compete and collide, lift tensions to an almost unbearable level.
Even with its myriad subplots — there are more twists than the road to Sainte Agnes in Tell No One — the film never forgets to thrill and entertain. Working from the American crime novel by Harlan Coben, young actor/director Guillaume Canet (the French traveler Étienne from The Beach) manages, despite his relative inexperience, to create the impression of French high society types coming to grips with their secrets and lies. He maximizes the paranoia by keeping the look clean and tidy; he lets his characters, not his cameras, jump to conclusions in Tell No One. The actors perform brilliantly for Canet, in particular Kristin Scott Thomas as Hélène, the shifty lover to Alex’s sister, Anne (Marina Hands), and Francois Berleands as a crusty cop with a soft spot for his mother.
Tell No One is The Fugitive with twice the IQ — and every bit of muscle. In fact, the only flab on Tell No One’s lean physique is, of all things, the backwards-glancing love story between Alex and Margot, which dates back to their childhood. There’s a syrupy montage contrasting their wedding against Margot’s funeral, a treacly passage set to Jeff Buckley’s “Lilac Wine.” (Otherwise, Tell No One uses music superbly, including obscure gems by Otis Redding and Richie Havens.) Soon after, Alex attacks a grove of giant trees with what appears to be an oversized twig. In other words, Tell No One can be excessive and silly in places, the equivalent of using a shovel when a spade would suffice. If it’s not a classic film, it’s a first-rate thriller, demanding that we pay attention throughout. Tell No One is easily one of the best films of 2008. See it, then tell everyone.
Tell No One opens Friday, Aug. 22, at the Bijou.