Guillaume Canet's Tell No One is that rarest of cinematic beasts, a thriller that actually thrills. It's an efficient and intelligent entertainment, expertly balancing a labyrinth plot, genuine suspense, and an "innocent man wrongly accused" narrative that Hitchcock would have been proud of. It is, simply speaking, a crackerjack picture.
An evocative opening sequence introduces us (with considerable help from the music of Otis Redding) to the idyllic romance of Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet) and his wife Anne (Marie-Josée Croze). These things don't last for long, of course; she's murdered by attackers that put him in a coma, and we jump ahead eight years. He still hasn't let go of her, which isn't helped by the arrival of an email in his inbox that appears to have come from her. Around the same time, a grisly discovery near the scene of the crime begins to call into doubt his innocence in her murder, which isn't helped by a new murder in which he looks very guilty.
Canet's screenplay (based on the American novel by Harlan Coben) is like a "how-to" manual for suspense scriptwriting; the exposition is handled in subtle dialogue and well-chosen images, there's not a wasted scene or character, and the immediacy of Beck's situation is clearly conveyed. Canet's direction picks it up from there, steadily quickening the pace in the second act and building to several moments of unbearable suspense--particularly in a remarkable sequence at an Internet café that immediately subverts our expectations.
Most importantly, Canet trusts his audience--exponentially more than comparable American thrillers, in fact. The first act is busy to a point of near-convolution, but we're never lost and we're certainly never bored. Even in its setup, Tell No One is intriguing, creating a sense of dread and expectation similar to (but, for my money, never delivered on by) Michael Haneke's Caché. Once the wheels are in motion, the second act pays them off beautifully, particularly in a breathless foot chase around the one-hour mark that expertly utilizes skillful cutting, handheld and POV camerawork, and a terrific piece of score by Mathieu Chedid. When it all finally comes together, this reviewer both gasped and chuckled; the closing sequence is a stunner, richly rewarding and tremendously satisfying.
Performances are spot-on throughout. Cluzet conveys just the right amount of everyman pluck as Beck, while Kristin Scott-Thomas (apparently going through a French cinema phase) brings the right amount of concern and toughness to her turn as his sister-in-law. François Berléand brings such richness and dimension to his role as the police captain on the case that you wish he had a film of his own. And André Dussolier, as Margot's father, turns in a fascinating two-part performance as a man who not only grieves for his daughter, but is irrevocably bruised by the things he has seen.
The anamorphic 2.35:1 image is quite good, full of nice, deep blacks, crisp edges, natural skin tones, and warm, muted colors. Occasional daytime exteriors are a touch blown-out, but this is a very solid transfer overall, with no digital artifacts or compression issues detectable to the naked eye.
The 5.1 French audio mix isn't quite up to par; audibility is fine, and the front and center channels are plenty active, with dialogue and moody music lively and well-mixed. However, there just isn't much happening in the rear speakers. This is understandable in the quiet dialogue scenes (of which there are many), but they stay pretty quiet in the chase scenes and action beats as well.
A dubbed English 2.0 soundtrack is also included, as are (of course) English subtitles.
Bonus features are a little on the thin side. The Deleted Scenes (34:05) are mostly brief throwaways or alternate and extended versions of existing sequences; for example, we get a version of Beck's elevator conversation with the police detectives that's played in a single, moving take rather than the standard coverage used in the final cut. Some of these are interesting (I preferred that version of the elevator scene to the one in the film), but most are pretty redundant. No menu selections or chapter stops are offered, so these scenes can only be viewed in the single, 34-minute chunk.
The only other extra is a selection of Outtakes (5:59). They're a little disorienting; it's frankly strange to see actors blowing lines and cracking up a) in French, and b) while shooting such a serious thriller. A few other odds and ends are included as well, including several takes (shot on video) of a body-mounted camera going into the water with Cluzet.
Don't let the subtitles scare you away, casual cinema fans: Tell No One is a tight, terrific thriller, thoroughly engrossing and blisteringly intelligent. Hollywood hasn't made a suspense picture this successful in years; hopefully some of the brighter writers and directors out there will give this one a spin and take some notes on how it's done.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.