American audiences have become so obsessed with serial killers and psychotic torturers that our filmmakers have all but given up on the idea of a traditional whodunit with hardly any blood spilled.
So it was French director Guillaume Canet who undertook an adaptation of “Tell No One,” a book by New Jersey writer Harlan Coben. The result is one of the twistiest thrillers in recent memory.
Canet also wrote the script with Philippe Lefebvre. (Both men have been actors for 15 years and are slowly establishing themselves behind the camera. If you saw “Joyeux Noël,” you may recall Canet as the French lieutenant.)
They tie themselves and us in knots with this new screenplay, which has one too many red herrings, one coincidence that's too hard to swallow and a big unanswered question. But the rest of the storytelling sews us tightly into a story that not only challenges the brain but engages the heart.
François Cluzet, a Dustin Hoffman-esque veteran of French films, plays pediatrician Alexandre Beck, who's married to Margot (Marie-Josée Croze of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”). She disappears from a lake on his family's property; he's knocked unconscious while trying to rescue her. When he awakens, he's told that she's dead – but eight years later, as he's going about his life in peaceful solitude, he gets an e-mail that suggests she's alive.
To say more is to dispel the fog you'll find yourself in, and fighting your way out of that fog is one of the two main pleasures “Tell No One” has to offer. The other is your empathy with Beck, who seems likely to be unjustly accused by the police of two fresh murders or killed by the people who've committed them.
Fans of French films will recognize the faces of André Dussollier as Margot's weary father, Jean Rochefort as a secretive senator, Nathalie Baye as Margot's pal, François Berléand (of the “Transporter” movies) as a dogged cop and Kristin Scott Thomas (who has lived in Paris for decades) as Beck's wary sister-in-law. Canet himself has a cameo as a guy with a checkered past.
Fans of U.S. novels and old movies, meanwhile, will recognize the atmosphere of fear, rage, bewilderment and helplessness in the face of danger that were staples of film noir. We created that genre after World War II, and the French co-opted it in the 1950s. Thank goodness their filmmakers still think it has value.
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