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Tell No One
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by Peter Sobczynski

"As the French would say, "Que La Baise S'Est-Elle Juste Produite ?"
4 stars

As the lights went up at the end of the screening of the new French thriller “Tell No One,” I must confess that my initial thoughts regarding the film were not that positive. In fact, it struck me as one of the most absurd films in recent memory--a Gallic take on the classic innocent-man-on-the-run scenario that was so wildly over-the-top in its narrative excesses that even Brian De Palma himself might have questioned the logic of some of the story points and featuring so many twists, turns, reversals of fortunes and explanations that I am unconvinced that there is anyone out there who could begin to explain the entire thing in a coherent fashion and that includes the people who actually made the film in the first place. Now that I have let it settle in my head for a few days, I have come to sort of embrace it after all, not despite the lunacy of its plot but because of it. So many thrillers these days offer up boring and rudimentary plots that are so devoid of genuine suspense or excitement that it is often a struggle to stay awake through them to make it to their easily predictable finales. With “Tell No One,” on the other hand, there are many words that one could use to adequately describe it but “boring” and “rudimentary” are most definitely not among them.

The film opens on one of those peaceful and bucolic days in which everything is so perfect that we know that it will only be a few minutes before the calm is shattered by a horrible event that will change the lives of the characters we are watching forever. This time around, we witness popular and respected pediatrician Alex Beck (Francois Cluzet) at a boisterous dinner party with Margot (Marie-Josee Croze), the childhood sweetheart who is now his wife. After the party, they go off to a lakeside cabin that his family own and gambol nakedly in the water before continuing the gamboling on a jetty in the middle of the lake. After a minor argument, Margot hears something in the woods and swims back to shore to find out what it is. When she screams, Alex swims back to come to her aid but just as he is climbing out of the water, he is struck by an unseen assailant and knocked unconscious back into the water. When he wakes up a couple of days later, he discovers that Margot has been brutally murdered. At first, Alex is suspected of the crime by the police because of some questions regarding his story--if he was knocked unconscious into the water, who pulled him out?--but before too long, a local serial killer is arrested for the crime and put away.

Eight years pass and while Alex has gotten on with his life in some regards, he still misses Margot terribly (especially all the naked gamboling, one suspects) and is unable to move on in that regard. On the eighth anniversary of Margot’s murder, two strange events occur that bring the whole thing crashing back down upon him again. The first is the discovery of two long-buried corpses found on his property near where Margot was killed, one of them bearing a key to a safety-deposit box that contains photos that suggest that Alex may have beaten Margot and a baseball bat containing traces of what appears to be Alex’s blood on it. The second is an e-mail that leads to a real-time video feed of a crowded street that includes someone who looks strikingly like Margot. Naturally, Alex becomes obsessed with the idea that Margot is still alive and somehow in danger and tries to track down who is sending the video and why. This becomes difficult when the police become convinced that he may have actually killed Margot after all, as well as the two other people, and issue a warrant for his arrest that forces him to go on the lam and seek help from a criminal (Gilles Lellouche) whose son he saved during a medical emergency. This becomes even more difficult when a group of sadistic thugs begin snooping around Alex’s acquaintances asking about the whereabouts of Margot and expressing their disappointment in unsatisfactory answers in the messiest manner possible.

Yes, the storyline of “Tell No One,” which has been adapted by French filmmaker Guillaume Canet (who also makes a brief appearance here in an especially slimy supporting role) from a novel from American author Harlan Coben, is convoluted to the extreme--so much so that there are times when it feels less like a cohesive narrative and more like the results of an explosion at the screenplay factory. Then again, this is the kind of film that doesn’t really require a completely logical plot in order for it to work--have you ever actually tried to make sense out of the storyline that Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman cooked up for “North by Northwest” lately? What it requires is a central character that we like and who we are willing to follow along as he gets himself in and out of one implausible scrape after another, an ultimate goal that is worth enduring all of those scrapes, suitably hateful villains and complex obstacles that conspire to prevent the hero from reaching his goal and a bold and heedless storytelling approach that moves things along so quickly and cleanly that it never slows down long enough for us to realize just how utterly preposterous the whole thing is. Happily, all of those aspects are on display here in full force. As the increasingly beleaguered Alex, Cluzet makes for a convincing and sympathetic victim of circumstances and while some of his physical derring-do may seem a little unlikely for a middle-aged pediatrician, it isn’t so far out of the realm of reality to strain credibility. Although she gets much less screen time, Marie-Josee Croze (whom you may remember from her scene-stealing role as the comely hit-woman who met an especially disturbing end in “Munich”) is so likable in her flashback scenes as Margot that you can fully understand Alex’s devotion to her and his unwillingness to give up her memory. The villains and the obstacles, none of which I will reveal here, are suitably nasty and fairly compelling even though they rarely make any sense from a logical standpoint. Most importantly, Canet keeps all of the narrative plates spinning in the air for over two hours and only occasionally does he lose control and let things get too ridiculous, such as in an overblown and painfully unironic montage scored to U2’s “With or Without You” that feels more like an outtake from “Reality Bites” than anything Hitchcock might have come up with.

These are all legitimate reasons to go see “Tell No One” but for me, the most memorable aspect of the film--the thing that entertained me the most--comes during the climax when everything is finally explained to Alex. (Don’t worry--I won’t give anything crucial away). Normally, explanation scenes like these are like grim death for most thrillers--either they are laboriously spelling out things that we have already figured out several reels earlier or they are desperately trying to tie up loose ends in a way that inevitably only serves to call further attention to the various plot holes. (Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest directors of all time but as anyone who has seen the denouement of “Psycho” can attest, even he found himself at sea with this kind of unnecessary capper.) With this film, on the other hand, such an explanation scene is a little more necessary than usual since even the most attentive viewers may have thrown up their hands in complete confusion by this point. Anyway, the person doing the talking starts explaining every little twist and turn in detail--even some of the explanations require sub-explanations to explain themselves--in an aria that goes on for minutes on end and which covers pretty much every possible logical explanation for the proceedings that we have seen and quite a few illogical one for good measure. Finally, after what seems like 30 straight minutes of increasingly frenzied crazy talk, there is a pause and we assume that all the cards have finally been laid out for us at last. And at that moment, the explainer turns around and. . .well, I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the best part of the film for you. However, I can guarantee that if you make it that far, what happens next is totally worth the price of admission and then some.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17340&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/11/08 00:19:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2008 Florida Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/14/11 mr.mike It was overly convoluted , and my mind wandered. 3.5 stars. 3 stars
9/09/08 jcjs ya can't beat this kinda stuff...excellent, so enjoyable to watch and a thinkster 5 stars
8/20/08 Gene Dam good!` 5 stars
8/04/08 Phil Buckley-Mellor One of the best, and oddly realistic, thrillers I've seen 5 stars
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  DVD: 31-Mar-2009


  DVD: 31-Mar-2009

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