The expository dump: Most thrillers are guilty of it and many of them do it poorly. It's when a minor but notable character shows up at the end of the movie to explain how the intricate puzzle pieces the hero has been chasing all come together. Up to that moment, however, there's no way in hell that anyone could've figured it out. And rarely does the explanation stand up to scrutiny.
It's a credit to French actor-turned-director Guillaume Canet that not only don't we mind waiting for the answer to the intricate mysteries behind Tell No One, but that it actually makes sense when the dump finally arrives. What's particularly interesting about this French-language suspenser is that it's taken from an American pop potboiler by crime novelist Harlan Coben. And, oddly enough, that overseas adaptation may very well be the thing that makes the film's convoluted and overwrought plot work so beautifully.
Pediatric resident Alex Beck (François Cluzet) and his wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze) are the perfect couple: childhood sweethearts who continue to adore each other in marriage. One terrible night while vacationing at their secluded lake house, the two are violently and inexplicably attacked. Alex is left for dead while Margot disappears screaming into the darkness. Fast-forward eight years. Alex, now a pediatrician, is haunted, still struggling to cope with the loss of his wife. Suddenly bodies are discovered on his property, leading the police to suspect him of being behind her murder. Then Alex gets an impossible e-mail, sending him on an elaborate hunt to find out what happened that night and who was involved. Needless to say, lots of skeletons start tumbling out of the family closet.
Moody, elegant and intimate, this twisty thriller knows when to turn the screws and when to slow things down and let us into the characters' head space. It's like a Gallic version of The Wrong Man, had it been directed by Brian De Palma. Claustrophobic and engrossing, some might argue that the film is also impossibly complex, indulgent and outlandish. It is. But when you consider some of Hitchcock's more complicated movies (North by Northwest comes to mind) Tell No One is in good company. And despite its numerous reversals, flashbacks and conflicting explanations, the plot still hangs together for those who want to puzzle it out. Canet not only handles each machination with skill and energy, he gives the final confession of a key character a clever twist, layering in yet another version of what "really" happened.
Tell No One is filled with the kind of savvy personal touches that create a believably rich world for its hero, one that exists beyond the screen. From the gangbanger father who feels indebted to Alex (Gilles Lellouche) to his grieving in-laws, each supporting character is well-etched and expertly portrayed. What's particularly interesting is the overwhelming presence of women in the film. There's Alex's sad-eyed sister, Anne (Marina Hands), who may know more than she's letting on. Then there's Anne's stylish and cool-as-a-cucumber lover Helene (Kristin Scott Thomas putting her French to good use), who hires a ball-busting lawyer (Nathalie Baye) to defend Alex. And, of course, there's the lovely Margot, who earns both her husband's loyalty and heartache. Even the film's creepiest nemesis is a mute female killer who disturbs with her casual ability to torture.
But the thing that brings everything together is Cluzet's soulfully nuanced performance. Alex Beck is a believably heartbroken man driven at all costs to learn the truth about what happened to the woman he loves. Tell No One may offer a dizzying whirlwind of nail-biting turns and dramatic revelations but at its poignant and gripping center is a protagonist who earns every ounce of our sympathy and attention. Don't wait for the American remake; see it now.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.