"Tell No One" is a stylish thriller in French (with English subtitles) that sprawls across an hour and twenty-five minutes of screen time, offering a blend of mystery and political intrigue that's as tantalizing and ultimately satisfying as any in the genre.
Based on a novel by Harlan Coben, "Tell No One" feels a little like a French version of "The Fugitive": a doctor's wife is murdered under hazy circumstances with no witnesses but the doctor, who was knocked unconscious by the thugs who did her in. He becomes a suspect, and at some point has to run from police. There's no one-armed man and no emphasis on hiding, though. That's because in "Tell No One," director Guillaume Canet doesn't go the action route. Instead, he takes his time telling the story of a man and a woman in an artful way, and then proceeds to zero in on a psychological drama that has viewers wondering whether the doctor is a Boston Strangler-style split personality, or whether his wife even died in the first place.
Francois Cluzet, who's a dead-ringer for Dustin Hoffman from certain angles, plays a newly minted doctor who has a tender relationship with his wife, Margot (Marie-Josée Croze). We see them visit the tree which, since childhood, they've added a notch to the heart that declares each one's love for the other. And then, Margot strips down and dives into the lake. Alexandre follows. They frolic. But when she swims back to shore while he remains on the raft, he hears a scream. He dives in and swims to shore, but someone belts him with a baseball bat and he falls into the lake. Alex awakens after three days to find himself in the hospital, and his wife murdered--discovered and identified by her father, a police captain (Andre Dussollier). Alex becomes a prime suspect, but with no real evidence the case is closed.
Flash forward eight years and the newspaper headlines reveal that two bodies were discovered in the same woods where the murder took place. Suddenly the case is reopened, and Alex is a prime suspect again. Though he's been seeing people, it was never serious. He still loves and misses his wife, and on the anniversary of her death he ritually visits his former in-laws. But one day an email message that lists as its subject line the A+M and all the notches that were on the tree. Go here, meet me there. But tell no one. They're watching! Is Margot still alive? We wonder, just as we wonder later why the gun used to commit a murder is discovered in Alex's apartment. Does he have a split personality and no recollection of what his alter ego is doing, or is he being framed? And if he's being framed, who are the "they" who are watching and waiting to do him harm?
"Tell No One" is a demanding film, insomuch as the complicated plot doesn't answer such questions in the usual Hollywood modicum of time. There are long stretches where you don't know what the heck is going on, and that's perhaps compounded by the need to read the dialogue in subtitles. I could see where this film would be even more satisfying watched a second time, because the story a real puzzler whose answers aren't revealed until the very end. And it isn't just the whodunit question. There are plenty of things that raise suspicion in "Tell No One." There's a wealthy senator (Jean Rochefort) and his son (Canet) who are involved somehow, though we don't know if it's a parallel story, a story that coincidentally intersects with the main narrative arc, or a part of the main narrative. Even relationships are suspect, with questions raised about why Alex has a somewhat cool relationship with his sister (Marina Hands) and her lover (Kristin Scott Thomas), and whether his attorney (Nathalie Baye) is fully on his side or not.
It's the small things that ultimately add to the complexity of the film and make it richer-things like a thug who brings in his son for treatment at the hospital and comes under suspicion for beating the boy. So why did Alex say the boy was a hemophiliac whom he'd seen before? Just being a nice guy, or did he recognize the bruises and the man's psychic state because he really may have been responsible for bruises shown on his wife's face? That man will later turn out to be a major plot device, but everything is so well integrated that the plot seems more naturalistic than contrived. If there is a downside to this film, it's that the wealth of detail, subtlety, and complexity that we get throughout isn't matched by the ending, which plays a bit like the old British mysteries--you know the type, where the all-knowing sleuth explains the plot to everyone else? By that time we're wanting a few answers, but perhaps less directly.
"Tell No One" is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and the VC-1 transfer is decent enough. I haven't seen the original and so I can't comment on how faithful the Blu-ray is to the theatrical master, but I can say that there's a slight graininess throughout and a little atmospheric noise in some scenes. Colors are natural but not highly saturated, though black levels are strong enough to provide good contrast and edge delineation. There's not much of a 3-D effect, though, and the transfer to my eyes appears just a little soft. But videophiles for whom DNR and edge enhancement are dirty words can be reassured that none appear to have been applied here.
Curiously, there are two sound options (not counting a clumsy English dubbed version in 2.0 Dolby Digital that I can't recommend): a French Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kbps) or a French 2.0 PCM Lossless (1536Khbps). The PCM is by far the superior track, with more dynamics and a decent-enough spread across the speakers. The effects just come alive more with uncompressed audio. Bass is full but not full of vibrato, and there's a nice mix where action scenes aren't ratcheted up to the max, the way they are in Hollywood. Subtitles are in English and French.
There aren't a lot of extras. Included is a pretty standard hour-long making-of feature with subtitles that you can't remove, probably because the feature is bilingual, with both English and French spoken. If you're into deleted scenes, there are roughly a half-hour of them here, presented in HD. That's probably the biggest bonus feature, because it's fascinating being able to second-guess the director on the amount of information and clues to plant here and there. A six-minute blooper reel includes outtakes as well, though it seemed as if half of that was devoted to shots of the main character being whacked into the lake.
Watch "The Fugitive" and "Tell No One" and you'll get a pretty good sense of what separates French filmmaking from Hollywood. There's no crow-flies trajectory in this thriller, and no compulsion to deliver more--more action, more information, more anything. It's just a solid, complex thriller.