Recent years haven’t been particularly kind to foreign language film, there was once a time when it seemed movies from all over the world had a shot of capturing the domestic zeitgeist. This could be because audiences have suddenly become less adventurous, it could be because of a dip in quality product, it could be the result of the same oversaturation that has greatly hurt domestic independent movies, but I think it’s because of more sinister motives. My un-provable conspiracy theory is that Hollywood has been deliberately holding back the foreign films that have any real chance at wide acceptance so that they can pave the way for their own remakes of the same films. After all they can make a lot more money off a remake than off a subtitled flick, and the less people know about the unoriginality of their future tent poles the better. For example, I see no reason why we still haven’t had any kind of domestic distribution for the Spanish horror film [Rec] except for Hollywood to pave the way for their remake of the movie: Quarantine. We can only be thankful that a remake of the 2006 French thriller Tell No One, if that was the case it more than likely would still be sitting on the shelf almost two years after it debuted in France.
The film opens with a murder; newlywed med-student Alex Beck (François Cluzet) and his wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze), after a little night swimming in a secluded lake, get into an argument driving Margot to swim away from the pontoon they had been resting on. Alex hears a noise and swims after her to investigate; he is then knocked unconscious by an unseen assailant, while his wife faces certain death. Most mysteries would continue from there and investigate the murder that just occurred, but not this one. Instead the film jumps ahead nine years, the case has already been closed and concluded to be the action of a serial killer who was at large at the time. Alex is now a doctor working at a clinic in Versailles, he’s still in a state of grief over the loss of his wife, and is all the more depressed with the anniversary of the death fast approaching. One day while he’s working he receives a strange e-mail from an anonymous sender telling him to open an attached video on the anniversary of his wife’s death. He reluctantly follows the e-mail’s instructions and see’s in the attached video an image of his wife, alive and well having aged nine years. From here the film becomes a very unconventional murder mystery; one that asks not “Who done it” but “who didn’t done it” and more importantly “why didn’t they done it.”
First of all, I’m going to point out that the plot here is very complicated, but not in a bad way. The case at hand is labyrinthine in its complexities; there are a lot of pieces in the puzzle and lots of clues to keep track of. About mid-way through the film I found myself thinking: I like where this is going, but there better be a damn good explanation for everything going on. The ending, did indeed explain almost everything that happened, all the pieces fit together and it was satisfying on that level. However, as air-tight as the explanation was it did still seem pretty thoroughly far-fetched. I was reminded in some ways of the problems I had with the movie Gone Baby Gone, which like this film didn’t really give a good reason for such an elaborate conspiracy to exist. The catalyst for all this film’s insanity is not a matter of national security but a personal crisis which I frankly don’t believe to be a good enough reason for all this bloodshed.
Still, even if the final twist didn’t completely work for me, it did work well enough to not diminish how impressive the rest of the narrative plays out. What’s more, for any of the film’s failings as a mystery it more than makes up for them as a thriller. The central set piece is an excellent foot chase involving Cluzet escaping out a window, running down to a sidewalk and desperately running across a busy freeway. At this point the film takes an interesting left turn and goes from living in the domain of the suburban bourgeois and finds itself exploring Paris on the level of the streets. Other highlights include a murder scene that seems to come out of nowhere and a kidnapping that seems like it couldn’t be escapable.
If a good mystery and thriller weren’t enough to sell you, the character level of the story works pretty well too. The grief and remorse that Alex goes through here is present through the movie, which is aided in large part by François Cluzet’s excellent performance. Cluzet here is able to match the emotional rollercoaster his character is put through, but does it without moping through the entire movie. He’s also very good at selling portions of the movie where his character is suddenly seems a lot more able to deal with the craziness around him than one would expect the average doctor to, and he does it by making his crazy feats seem the result of extreme desperation and determination. Outside of Cluzet, the rest of the cast is solid but not wildly noteworthy, Marie-Josée Croze stands out despite limited screen time because of her place at the center of the plot. Kristin Scott Thomas also stands out with limited screen time as Alex’s sister-in-law, mainly because of one really memorable scene.
There’s not really a wealth of things to say about Tell No One, except that it’s a very effective little pot-boiler. It’s based on one of those “best seller” beach novels that people buy at airports and it doesn’t really have many pretentions beyond its source material except to be very well executed. Even though it doesn’t end perfectly the ride is more than worth the price of admission. More than worth the price, when I look back on the film it isn’t the serpentine plot that really stands out, but rather the intensity of that footchase across the freeway, the determination of Alex to get to the bottom of the situation, and the look of utter joy on François Cluzet’s face as he remembers a U2 concert he went to with his wife while being given hope of seeing her again.
***1/2 out of Four