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Tell No One

Guillaume Canet (director)

By Amanda Vaill
Published: Jul 30, 2015
Category: Drama

Roger Ebert: "Here is how a thriller should be made."

Stephen Holden, The New York Times: "I watched it twice. It was even better the second time.”

You probably don’t know of this film, though it made many “Top 10” lists. It headed mine for 2008 because it was smart and subtle and…. but why take my overheated word? Let Guest Butler Amanda Vaill — author of Hotel Florida and Everybody Was So Young — share her thoughts.

Guillaume Canet’s "Tell No One,"  the French adaptation of a Harlan Coben novel, won César Awards for its director and its leading actor, François Cluzet. Its plot device seems simple enough: A man whose wife was murdered eight years previously suddenly starts receiving e-mail messages containing real-time videos of her that appear to have been shot days before. All the messages are marked, "Tell no one.” Are they real? Is she alive?

These questions acquire additional piquancy when new evidence — two dead bodies and a hunting rifle that used to belong to the husband’s father — is literally dug up by laborers laying pipe near the murder scene. The police reopen the murder investigation, focusing their suspicions on the husband, while a group of mysterious outside operatives are also tracking him — and liquidating witnesses who might shed light on the mystery — while he’s trying to find out whether his wife might still be alive.

It’s a situation straight out of Hitchcock, and handled with Hitchcockian skill. Maybe better, for the husband’s desperation — a compound of grief, love, and improbable hope — is too hot and naked an emotion for the man who created “Vertigo” and “North By Northwest.”  [To buy the DVD from Amazon, click here. To rent the download from Amazon for $2.99 or buy the download for $7.99, click here.]

This desperation is the fuel for his flight, on foot, when the police are about to arrest him (mistakenly, of course) for the murder of one of the witnesses — a chase scene that, almost more than anything else in the movie, defines what makes “Tell No One” such a satisfying film. In the hands of a bigger, more commercial director, there would be plenty of heart-pounding suspense when Cluzet jumps from his hospital-consulting-room window and dashes toward the Boulevard Périphérique, the six-lane highway that lies just down the street. There would be a nail-biting moment as he threads his way across the highway, between oncoming cars; and a feeling of cautious relief as he dives into the warren of the Marché aux Puces and seems fleetingly safe. But the humanity would be missing.

Under Canet’s direction, though, and in Cluzet’s performance, pediatrician Paul Beck is both driven by obsession and fallibly human. As he pauses on the brink of the Périphérique, he almost holds his breath before taking the plunge into the traffic, and you can see the terror in his eyes; as he runs down a street, the sweat progressively spreads across the back of his blue shirt, his legs turn rubbery with fatigue, and suddenly his feet just slide out from under him. His fall is clumsy. And your heart goes out to him.

Guillaume Canet is both a director and an actor (he appears fleetingly in this film as a good-looking young show-jumping rider). It shows: he knows when to let a performance tell the story. And in Cluzet, an Everyman of a certain age with a tight mouth and haunted eyes, he’s found the ideal instrument. “Tell No One” is that rare thing, a smart thriller that engages your sympathies and delivers suspense on a human scale.