Except for being in French, “Tell No One” is indiscernible from a mid-range American crime thriller, and it’s even based on an American novel, by Harlan Coben. It has twists and revelations and coincidences and some vivid chase sequences, making use of the classic Falsely Accused Man scenario in ways that would make Hitchcock smile, though I don’t think they would make him jealous. It’s a potboiler — not groundbreaking or brilliant, but solidly entertaining.
Our heroic Everyhomme is Alex Beck (FranÃ§ois Cluzet), a pediatrician whose beloved wife, Margot (Marie-Josee Croze), was murdered eight years ago. Alex was initially the prime suspect, but the blame eventually shifted to a serial killer who has since been caught. Alex continues to mourn Margot, awkwardly commemorating her death on its anniversary every year by visiting her parents, who do not particularly like him. Margot’s father, Jacques (Andre Dussollier), was the police detective who found Margot’s mutilated body in the woods near the Beck family’s estate.
As Alex shuffles through his post-Margot life, two alarming things happen almost simultaneously: a pair of bodies are found on the Beck property (now owned by Alex’s sister), and Alex gets an e-mail that seems to be from Margot herself. Which is impossible, considering Margot is dead, completely dead, cremated and everything. Suddenly Alex is under surveillance by some shifty no-name types who are spying on his e-mails and who want to know where Margot is, if she is in fact alive. Then a new murder is committed, and Alex framed for it, and a satisfyingly familiar situation emerges: Alex must solve the murder, clear his name, and evade the police in the meantime.
How this new murder is connected to those two bodies and to Margot’s death and possible resurrection is the focus of the story, and Guillaume Canet, who adapted and directed the film, delights in its many nooks and crannies. Details about Margot’s life prior to her death emerge, including a batch of photos documenting bruises she received in a car accident — a car accident that, it now seems, never actually happened. Familiar crime-movie elements, like the dogged old cop (FranÃ§ois Berleand) who is nagged by details and believes in Alex’s innocence, don’t feel like cliches; they feel like comfort food. The major scene in which Alex flees the police by escaping from his office building and dashing across town is so enthralling you can practically feel the cold sweat on Alex’s neck.
A few elements keep the film from achieving greatness. An early scene has Alex and his best friend Helene (Kristin Scott Thomas, who it turns out speaks French) engaged in clunky, unnatural dialogue in which they tell each other things that the other already knows, obviously for the sake of letting us know. The climactic scene at the end is ludicrously drawn out, with what must be the lengthiest Villain’s Explanatory Monologue in film history — and then, unsatisfied with all the twists revealed therein, the movie decides to give us one more for good measure. A story can only take so many twists before it breaks, you know.
“Tell No One” is ultimately no better than a lot of films of its genre — but then again, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a film of this genre executed this well. It’s pure popcorn entertainment, with no weightier ambitions getting in the way of its single-minded devotion to telling a good story.
B (2 hrs., 5 min.; French with subtitles; )