August 14, 2008

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Tell No One (NR)
A French man is spurred to solve his wife’s murder eight years earlier when he once again becomes a suspect in Tell No One, another fun French mystery tale.

If you could put up with reading subtitles for that long, Tell No One would make half of a great double feature with Roman de Gare, another fun beach-read-type mystery that made its way through artsy theaters this summer. Both do what no American movie has been able to do lately, namely offer the fan of the TV police procedural-type show a feature-length version of their favorite genre that is worth the extra hour.

Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet) is the sad widower who for eight years has mourned the violent death of his wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze). As we learn in the movie’s opening scenes, something horrible happens to her as the two enjoy a romantic evening at a private pond. Alex listens from a platform in the lake as his wife, who has just swum to shore, screams his name and engages in some kind of shuffle. He swims ashore to help her, but when he gets to the dock, he’s knocked out, and the last thing he remembers is falling into the water.

That water situation is rather difficult for Alex to explain to the police — as we learn later, he was found unconscious but on the dock. The police believed it was him until they found the body and evidence pointed to a serial killer.

Years later, however, new bodies are found in the area and once again the police are looking at Alex. But Alex receives a suspicious e-mail, leading him to question whether the crime really happened the way he was told it did. With the police close on his trail, Alex decides to investigate his wife’s murder himself, looking into her life all those years ago for clues to what really happened on that night.

Near the very end of the movie when all the threads of the plot are being pulled together, we get an extremely lengthy bit of exposition on what happened and what the motives where behind everybody’s actions. This part feels clunkier and more flawed than, say, your average wrap-up on Law & Order. I mention this because it is really the movie’s one misstep, the one time you’re really pulled out of the story to think about the construction of the film.

That the story works up until then is almost something of a miracle. The recent The X-Files movie, The Happening, The Strangers, Deception — these are all examples of recent movies with some kind of central mystery, and all examples of recent movies that handled their mystery much clumsier than Tell No One. While you’re not always shocked at the revelation of the murder in the last act of Law & Order or C.S.I, I do think that these shows have raised the bar on the structuring of mystery stories. We’re all familiar now with twists, the evidence that points one way but the discovery of new evidence that suggests something else, the idea of characters who appear to have one motive but really want something else. For whatever reason, movies haven’t entirely caught up with the level of sophistication that mystery-lovers can find on TV. We’re all grooving on The Wire but movies act like we haven’t moved past Dragnet.

That Roman de Gare and Tell No One have hit local theaters at roughly the same time is a real boon to lovers of a good mystery (not exactly The Wire in terms of the writing but still a solid offering for lovers of The Closer). Both these movies offer the kind of engrossing fun you’d expect to find with a light-weight summer novel. While Tell No One doesn’t have Roman de Gare’s sense of playfulness, it does offer more action, more layers of story and plenty of great suspense. Francois Cluzet, the Everyman caught in the nightmare, is great at personifying the mix of regular-personness and quick thinking that makes him ideal as a do-it-yourself detective. He has a solid and engaging sidekick in Helene (Kristin Scott Thomas), his sister’s girlfriend and his only confidant.

Tell No One is two hours but it feels much shorter. Despite the subtitles, it’s easy to lose yourself in the story. B+

The film is not rated. Directed by Guillaume Canet and written by Canet and Philippe Lefebvre (from a novel by Harlan Coben), Tell No One is two hours and five minutes long, is in French with subtitles and is distributed in limited release. It is scheduled to play in coming weeks at the Red River Theatres and at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.