Forget the new age cinematic stylings of M. Night Shyamalan. Despite a few above average thrillers, he’s never made a film that’s even in the same league as his breakthrough stunner, the '90s masterpiece The Sixth Sense (which, as far as ghost stories go, cannot be topped, in my humble opinion). No, the master of the surprise endings and twists-to-end-all-twists hasn’t been able to be called that for quite some time (hello, Lady in the Water). And instead, he’s been given the ultimate run for his money by hot French actor turned writer/director Guillaume Canet.
That’s right, the dishy Frenchman who shared the screen with the equally breathtaking Oscar winner Marion Cotillard in France’s smash hit, the mean-spirited romance I just didn’t get called Love Me if You Dare, has not only become the man on Cotillard’s arm in real life but one amazing director to watch in his own right. In Canet’s newest film Tell No One (a.k.a Ne le Dis a Personne) — a thriller based on American crime writer Harlan Coben’s bestselling novel of the same name — he goes Shyamalan one hundred better. Thus, since foreign film fans have most likely met Canet the handsome actor, I’m happy to introduce you to Canet 2.0.
Instead of just blowing our minds with one twist at the end of the film — how does one hundred strike you? All in ten minutes? All in French? In a summer filled with CGI and way too many superheroes to keep straight, admittedly I was unprepared for this ultimate, intellectual brain-teaser and in my screening notes — no doubt influenced by far too many Apatow-like comedies of late — I actually wrote, “It’s the Scooby Doo ending to top all Scooby Doo endings.” Yet now that I can process it in the light of day, that’s precisely what it is and although Tell No One’s wrap-up certainly made my head spin in the theatre, man, did it make for a fascinating post-film discussion and drive home.
While it may sound like a kid trying to unwrap every one of his birthday presents at once or gorge himself on a dozen pies in a state fair pie eating contest, amazingly, the twists and turns in Tell No One don’t seem like they’re simply the work of a glutton for pretense — they make perfect sense and not only challenge the audience’s intellect far more than “I see dead people; they’re everywhere,” but managed to make me wish I could’ve stayed for a double feature of the exact same film to see it again right away.
But enough of the tease, let’s get right into the action. The films begins on an idyllic night in the French countryside as Dr. Alex Beck (Francois Cluzet) and his wife Margot (Marie-Josee Croze) - sweethearts since childhood - go for a moonlight swim that turns deadly. When Margot interrupts their romantic reverie to let their family dog out, Alex listens in horror as he hears a scream. Trying to save his wife, he’s struck twice with a blunt object and left for dead.
The film cuts to eight years later as Alex, an unusually charismatic pediatrician who — imagine this irony — actually values his patients before payments, struggles to keep himself busy on the morbid anniversary of his wife’s death. While his best friend Helene (Kristin Scott Thomas, again as in Valet with a perfect French dialect) urges him to move on with his life, Alex is unable to do so, especially when new evidence comes to light surrounding the murder that had at the time been attributed to a crazed serial killer. Once the primary suspect in the case, Alex finds himself drawn back into the mystery after he receives a fascinatingly cryptic e-mail message in his Yahoo inbox and (thankfully, for the plot’s sake, ignoring every word about virus threats) opens it up only to see what appears to be fairly recent security camera footage of a very much alive and well Margot.
Although his anonymous sender warns him to “tell no one,” and he confides in Helene, soon with biased and increasingly suspicious police back on his case and mysterious, violent strangers following his every move, he revisits the details and figures involved in the horrid incident including his wife’s grieving parents, friends, and those who may have played a part. However, as the mystery grows with each new e-mail contact and the very real possibility that Margot may be trying to contact him, more foul play enters the film with all fingers pointing directly at Alex. Now a man on the run as a cross between The Fugitive’s Dr. Richard Kimball and every one of Hitchcock’s “wrong men,” he counts on assistance from contacts in the underworld including the scene-stealing Gilles Lellouche as Bruno, a criminal father grateful to the doctor for saving his beloved son to try to not only stay alive but avoid jail as more bodies are left in his wake on the fight for the truth.
View the Trailer
I hesitate to reveal more; suffice it to say that the film which was already nominated for six Cesars including Best Film (France’s version of the Oscars) and took home four statues for actor Cluzet, director Canet, editing, and music, is one of those sleeper foreign films that mystery fans have been craving for months. Needles to say, it seems as though the French have perfected not only romantic comedies but also post-Hitchcockian tales of mystery and suspense. Granted, initially, so entranced by the mystery, I began assuming this was just another in a long line of clever thrillers from the country including the brilliant, underrated With a Friend Like Harry and Claude Chabrol’s creepy, understated Merci Pour Le Chocolat, yet perhaps because it’s based on a contemporary book by an American writer, the film itself feels not only extremely contemporary but also as though it could take place in any country.
Indeed you couple that with a phenomenal soundtrack featuring Otis Redding, Jeff Buckley, and U2 and suddenly you have a thriller in which even those who hate reading subtitles or have a bizarre dislike for the French will become completely lost.
Therefore, instead of following the title’s advice of telling no one, I hope — aside from the whole obstruction of justice and fleeing from authority debacles — you’ll use Dr. Beck as an example and tell everyone. No doubt, even if you somehow disliked the film, you’ll want to… if only to boast that you were able to wrap your head around each and every one of the film’s audaciously unexpected twists and turns. So in the end, like The Sixth Sense, in Tell No One, we do see dead people — yet unlike The Village, Unbreakable, and Signs, we see a whole hell of a lot more than that and in one movie to boot.