If you’re a fan of thrillers in the vein of Hitchcock’s specialty – an innocent man wrongly accused – or more recent Swiss watches like the ‘80s classic “No Way Out” — then I’d like to draw your attention to an essential contribution to the genre. It’s a French film called “Tell No One,” and if you missed it last summer, and in its recent run at the Ryder Film Festival, it came out last week on DVD.
“Tell No One” is structured a bit like Hitch’s “Vertigo”, or perhaps the Dutch film “The Vanishing”, Polanski’s “Frantic”, the Kurt Russel-starring “Breakdown”, or most apt of all, the film of “The Fugitive”. In these movies, you have just one reel to get attached to the woman (almost always the wife); or, more precisely, to see her through the eyes of her man, who is devoted heart and soul. And then the lady vanishes, and devotion becomes obsession.
Dr. Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) is at the lake where he has swum with his wife since they first fell in love, at about age ten. He watches, hanging back on the dock, and we see the heavenly vision he sees. Margot (Marie-Josée Croze, who dominated her two brief scenes as the contract killer/honey trap in “Munich”) flicks a spaghetti strap, and with a shrug, is out of her simple white dress, standing naked as Eve, her back to him, kissed by the warm and setting sun. You yourself are not likely to forget the image. And when you see Dr. Beck’s face, you know he won’t, either.
Margot is murdered that very night. Dr. Beck, naked as the day he was born, rushing to the sound of a struggle, is cold-cocked, putting him in a coma for three days. But if he fell unconscious in the water, why would the killer drag him to the shore? It’s the first of several troubling discrepancies. These, initially, make Dr. Beck of interest to the police, but they never pin anything on him. That doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten him.
Nine years later -years in which Dr. Beck treasures and cultivates his suffering – he receives an email purporting to be from Margot. The attached video certainly looks like her, before she vanishes into a crowd. Cue Dr. Beck’s obsession, and a harrowing journey into danger and confusion.
Beyond the hook, the movie is special because the script (by the director) is positively enamoured of the thick plot of Harlan Coben’s book. And that French director, Guillaume Canet knows how to stage and edit this stuff with breathless precision.
Take the foot chase. There aren’t that many great ones in the movies. Recently, “Point Break” comes to mind, because the chase uniquely crashes through clusters of one unlikely environment after another. Perhaps include “Apocalypto” for a chase through the jungle that raises the blood pressure even more than the opening of “Casino Royale”, which does justice to “Peking Opera Blues”.
And if the chase is breathless, wait until you get aload of the plot. In fact, you might be a person who thinks there’s one twist too many. One scene is particularly problematic. A character – not a killer, at least not in the way you’re thinking – has so many secrets, and disgorges them so rapidly, from behind a loaded .38, that you can forget plausibility.
But the overload is part of the charm; and I dare you to find a drop of water filled by that scene. As for the rest of the crazy goings-on, they plummet and jump and snap-reverse in front of you, just out of your reach, as if you’re a fast but slow-to-turn lion chasing a gazelle across the veldt. You’ll never catch her – but it’s the hunt that counts.