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French thriller 'Tell No One' keeps tension surging

Francois Cluzet plays a man who may have found his late wife (Marie-Josee Croze) mysteriously alive.

Music Box Films

Francois Cluzet plays a man who may have found his late wife (Marie-Josee Croze) mysteriously alive.

Tell No One (not rated) (125 min.) Enough talk; enough flashbacks. Sometimes the best thing a mystery can do is give its protagonist a reason to run like hell.

The example of the year arrives midway through the French thriller Tell No One. A pediatrician wrongly accused of murder is being chased by the police. The doctor zigzags across the Paris beltway, narrowly avoiding traffic. The way the sequence is shot and edited, you believe every second; it unfolds, nervously, the way something like this would actually happen. It's on the money, this brief, memorable scene: tense and sharp but not overblown.

These qualities apply to the acting as well. Under the direction of Guillaume Canet, who adapted Harlan Coben's English-language bestseller with Philippe Lefebvre, this is a splendid ensemble doing its level best to keep the audience guessing all the way through an increasingly knotty narrative. Francois Cluzet, who resembles an elongated Dustin Hoffman, plays the doctor, and the performance is a marvel of containment..

Coben's story owes debts to Alfred Hitchcock's wrong-man scenarios, The Fugitive and the morally grimy landscape of novelist Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone). The milieu is as American as apple pie and serial killers. Yet its Gallic transformation works. The story hook remains the same, and it's pretty irresistible. Eight years after the vicious murder of his wife, whom he had known since they were childhood sweethearts, Beck receives an e-mail containing a surveillance video of a woman who may be the woman in question, mysteriously alive. She's played by the superb French-Canadian actor Marie-Josee Croze, last seen as the speech therapist in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

The cryptic e-mail instructs the doctor to keep mum and wait for another message. The police, meantime, have circumstantial evidence implicating the doctor in another murder. The events of the fateful night eight years ago haunt the doctor because they do not add up, and a daisy chain of secrets links that murky past to the increasingly bloody present.

When the resolution arrives, it arrives like a particularly crowded game of Twister. As the truth of the wife's disappearance emerges, flashback wrestles with flashback, and those who tend to get lost in these sorts of explanatory pileups may feel they'll never get out of Tell No One alive.

The actors come to the rescue. Cluzet's watchful intensity holds you throughout. Andre Dussollier portrays the policeman father of the doctor's wife, and it's fascinating to see such a naturally ebullient actor trade it all in for a stern glower. Everyone is ideally cast: Kristin Scott-Thomas as a lesbian restaurateur; Nathalie Baye as an icy whirlwind of an attorney; and director Canet as the son of a wealthy power broker played by the elegantly sinister Jean Rochefort.

As in the world of Lehane, the circles of corruption widen outward, until those swimming in it can barely see the shore. What I like about this picture — a French policier dropped inside Hollywood pulp fiction — has less to do with its grandiose, dirty-town vision of the evil that men do. I like the opportunities it affords its actors, who elevate every little insinuation and double-cross to a higher level.

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

French thriller 'Tell No One' keeps tension surging 08/27/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 2:12pm]
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