Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tell No One

If you don't mind subtitles, this is one of the best thrillers of 2008. If you mind subtitles, learn how to fucking read. Tell No One is based on the novel by Harlan Coben, a Jersey boy who won't make Dennis LeHane lose any sleep soon, but who writes solid thrillers about ordinary people thrust into frightening and realistic situations when something from their past rises from the muck and comes out swinging.
Alexandre Beck is a reserved and friendly doctor working at a Paris clinic. We meet him one morning when a brash, thuggish man brings in his child and demands that Dr. Alex see him. We see his calm in dealing with the violent man, and the sadness in his eyes. Through flashbacks, we learn that Dr. Alex's wife was brutally murdered 8 years ago, as they swam in a lake near a country cabin. He heard her scream, and when he climbed onto the dock he was knocked unconscious. Eventually her murder was blamed on a serial killer operating at the time, but he never confessed. Alex himself was suspected, because he could never explain why he was pulled from the water.
Now eight years later, two more bodies have been unearthed in the same area. The police begin sniffing around again. And on the anniversary of her death, Alex receives a cryptic e-mail he believes to be from his dead wife. How can this be? Is she still alive? He never got to identify the body. Her ex-cop father had that unfortunate task, and he describes the brutality vaguely, with obvious pain. So we have a set up similar to The Fugitive, but instead of fleeing the cops and hunting the one-armed man, Alex finds himself hunted by vicious, powerful men intent on destroying the life he's managed to cobble together after Margot's murder.


As he awaits the instructions in the e-mail, he finds that he is being watched. And as he reaches out to friends, they become targets. The pincers of the police digging through the old case begin to close, and Alex has no choice but to go on the run, for his own safety, that of his few friends, and possibly for Margot's, if she really is alive. Director Guillaume Canet keeps the tension pegged for much of the movie. The nameless thugs are led by a bearded man who kills as if he's swatting a fly. His consort is a silent woman with ripped muscles who seems to have studied massage therapy for the ability to cause pain instead of relief. Played by Mika'ela Fisher, she's one scary bitch.
Alex gets stuck between them and the police, with only his lawyer friend on his side. Even Margot's father turns against him. The film is Hitchcockian in how things close in on Alex, but without the master's dark humor. Here we are kept in Alex's shoes for the entire film, and we feel his fear. When he finally runs from the police, there's a fantastic foot chase through Paris, with none of the usual cliches. When he comes up against a busy highway he can't just dash across, flip over a windshield and keep going. There's also no booming chase music, we get to hear his breath, his footsteps, and the sounds of the city around him as he dives through alleyways, the backs of shops, and through street fairs. And unlike most wrongfully accused men, Alex actually gets tired.
The film is taut as a drum, and while we meet many colorful characters- sleazy lawyers to street thugs, senators obsessed with steeplechase horse races- they all matter. The ending is a little too long, and maybe a little too neat, but we get there it's quite satisfying. Alex is played by Fran├žois Cluzet perfectly, as a man who dearly loved his wife and is not granted superhuman powers through his righteous anger at her murder. Dustin Hoffman can play him in the inevitable remake. But see it before then, it's worth a little subtitle-readin'. Even if your lips move while doing it. Then go read the book, too.

4 croque monsieurs out of 5


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