Monday, August 11, 2008

Review: Tell No One

Tell No One

Tell No One is a tense thriller that owes more than a little to Hitchcock, and probably even more to Frantic, Polanksi's Parisian ode to Hitchcock. Alex Beck (Francois Cluzet) was enjoying a swim with his wife at the lake on his family property when he hears her scream. Going to her aid, someone knocks him unconscious, and when he wakes up, she has been murdered - another victim of the serial killer Serton. Eight years later, Beck is still in mourning, but the seemingly closed case has a break: a government crew laying pipe finds the bodies of two men in the area. Later that day, someone emails Beck to tell him that his wife is still alive, but "they" are watching so he must "Tell No One."

Although Tell No One's everyman protagonist on the run from both police and the dangerous "them" is straight out of Hitchcock, this film is strikingly similar to Michael Clayton in its construction. Godfrey Cheshire identifies Michael Clayton as having a "Jigsaw Puzzle" manner of fragmentation, in which "virtually every scene stands apart from the others, leaving the viewer to discern—or construct—the presumed pattern of meaning that unites them." Tell No One is nowhere near as fragmented as Michael Clayton, but it does partake in the jigsaw puzzle method; event after event occurs, and for the first hour or so it's not clear how they relate to each other. Indeed, quite early in the film it becomes obvious that a major character must have been in on the fake death, but we have nothing to do with this information. It's just another piece of the puzzle that must wait, unused, until we know where to place it.

As Alex, Cluzet is a highly believable everyman, an upper-middle-class pediatrician who displays unsurprising depths of intensity when his world is turned upside down. The entire cast surrounding him, from his gangster client Bruno (who becomes a useful ally in dealing with "them") to his sister to the dogged police inspector who believes he killed his wife, is made up of consummate professionals, who bring a very gallic sophistication to all the roles. All the roles besides Bruno, who is played with appropriate thuggish relish and a keen sense of obligation. But the movie's shining star is Kristin Scott Thomas. When Thomas appeared in 2005's failed black comedy Keeping Mum, my response was: Where has she been? If Tell No One and The Valet are any indication, Paris.

Thomas plays Helene, Alex's sister's wife, a restaurant owner who also appears to be the only human being he speaks to since his wife died. Although she doesn't believe in "them" or the seeming resurrection, Helene is Alex's only ally, facillitating a lawyer and providing financial aid, but above all serving as a friend and confidant. It's one of the film's many mysteries that, while neither Alex nor Helene seem particularly close to his sister, the two share a deep connection.

Perhaps the strongest thing in Tell No One's favor is that, unlike Frantic, Michael Clayton, and even North by Northwest, the dark secret of "them" doesn't turn out to be a matter of national security or national health. This is a more personal drama, eschewing a "thrilling" connection to larger issues for the smaller concerns of Alex and his wife. As such, its ultimate revelations are all the more chilling for being so intimately tied up in their lives.


Evan Derrick said...

I modestly enjoyed this one. As you point out, the mystery is the most engaging part.

I was disappointed with the emotional element that the film believed so strongly in. I felt that Alex and his wife were not given enough screen time together at the beginning to generate romantic sympathy. We meet her, she's dead, and now I'm supposed to care that she may be alive.

But, all in all, a great thriller that kicks all the American ones to the curb.

Graham said...

Well, I found this very emotionally engaging, but that's because of the relationship between Alex and Helene. When he tells his mother in law he's not seeing anyone, I thought "what about the restaurant owner?" When we find out that's his sister-in-law, I was astounded. And his sister's coldness to both him and Helen intrigued me even more.

As to the stuff with Rick and his wife: they obviously thought they could make it emotional for us by showing that they've been in love since they were 12. That, however, actually creeped me out. I thought it was weird that the movie thought love could be that strong for prepubescents. But that just strengthened my feeling that weird emotional things were happening.