MPI // 2007 // 125 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // April 3rd, 2009
Eight years ago, Alex's wife was murdered. Today, she emailed him.
Adapted from the English-language novel by Harlan Coben, director Guillaume Canet's Tell No One (aka My Idol) was a large critical and financial success in its native France. In spite of this, it almost didn't get any distribution in the US. Lucky for us, Music Box Films picked it up both in the theater and for the DVD release, because this action-rich, intelligent film is one of the best thrillers in years.
Alex (François Cluzet, French Kiss) and Margot (Marie-Josée Croze, Munich), in love since childhood, are now happily married and visiting the old family estate with some friends and family. While out for a skinny dip, Alex and Margot get into a minor argument and Margot leaves in a huff. Just as she gets out of sight, however, Alex hears her muffled cry. He swims to help but, just as he gets to shore, someone hits him in the face with a bat and he falls back into the lake. Three days later, Alex awakens from a coma to find out that, tragically, Margot was murdered. Eight years pass and Alex is still devastated by the loss when, all of a sudden, he gets an email link to a current video of his late wife with a message: "Tell no one; they are watching." Has Margot been alive all these years? If so, how can he find her before the police, who have uncovered evidence that link him to her death, catch up to him?
Over the years, the French have made some phenomenal thrillers. Les Diaboliques, Rafifi, and now Tell No One, which most definitely belongs in the conversation with these other greats. It isn't that it only does one or two things very well, however. On every level, from the performances and direction to the use of music, Tell No One succeeds brilliantly as a classic serpentine thriller.
Cluzet is extremely strong as Alex, who has never been able to get over the loss of Margot. From the opening moments of the film, a dinner party at the estate to the strains of Otis Redding's "For Your Precious Love," and, in the same way as that great thriller, puts us in the position of the main character and forces us to ask ourselves what we would do if the only person in our lives was suddenly ripped away from us, never knowing what really happened. The difference in Alex having evidence that Margot was murdered makes the email he receives weigh more heavily because, where George Sluizer's hero in The Vanishing never knew what happened and was given a choice to find out, Alex has spent eight hard years trying to resolve Margot's murder, only to have the possibility of her life suddenly thrust back in his face. Cluzet is perfect in representing both the joy and despair of this realization. His ensuing search for the truth, now far more action packed, this emotional contrast shadows all of the twists and turns to follow, grounding the film in the humanity that comes from his love for Margot and his determination to find out the truth.
Those twists that mislead and endanger Alex are brilliantly executed by Canet, who also adapted Coben's novel for the screen. Information is doled out at a leisurely pace while the danger comes at him fast, furious, and from a number of different directions. The simple sense of dread in Margot's message to Alex with the knowledge that an ambiguous "they" are watching lets him know right away that things aren't going well. This is compounded, however, by the sudden appearance of two corpses at his wife's death site that reopen Margot's case. Alex was briefly a suspect in the murder, which was eventually attributed to a serial killer, but the police are happy to bring him in to ask a few more questions. While he's not too keen on answering them anymore, his solo investigation brings a whole other world of trouble onto into the mix. A pair of seeming assassins want to know where Margot is as well, why is not so clear, but they have methods of making people talk that look convincingly painful and are the main source of menace in the film and a scarily credible source at that.
Most certainly, Alex is the main character and Cluzet takes the greater majority of screen time, but the supporting players are equally strong. Marie-José:e Croze does well as Margot. Though, as a character whose presence is more mystical than actual, she is not given a whole lot to do. She does take good advantage of her time, however; she is charming and appealing in every flashback, and it's easy to see Alex's obsession with her. A host of good character actors populate the cast. Kristen Scott Thomas (Under the Cherry Moon), a British actress, has made a good career out of French cinema and stands out here as Alex's closest confidante and his younger sister's longtime girlfriend. These great performances culminate in the appearance of the legendary Jean Rochefort (Prêt-à-Porter), whose glassy blue eyes hide secrets and elicit sympathy with seemingly no effort in a mere few minutes on screen.
On top of the great performances is a superior sense of action and suspense. While the story itself has a methodical pace, the action comes at a fast clip. Good fight sequences and one of the best car and foot chase scenes in a long time. Canet ratchets up the tension in these scenes using a great score by Mathieu Chedid and a smattering of pop songs, including the previously mentioned Redding track and Jeff Buckley's version of "Lilac Wine," that are seldom but perfectly used, adding just the right touches of emotion on top of the action. Guillaume Canet has shown at his young age and excellent eye for style as well as substance, setting himself up in his second film as a director to watch.
Music Box Films, who brought this movie to the U.S. both in the theater and on DVD, have done very well with this release of Tell No One. The anamorphic transfer is perfectly clear with very nice contrast and color levels. The image has the clarity expected in a new film, but there is excellent detail and not an instance of dirt or damage. The surround audio mix is equally good, featuring good separation in the front, back, and to either side. The dialog is clear and the effects are sharp and nicely leveled. The extras are sparse; one feature is good and one, not to my taste. Half an hour of deleted and extended scenes start us off. They expand a little on the story, but there's nothing Earth-shattering in there. A brief series of outtakes is our only other feature, one that I've always found a pointless addition. They don't add anything to the film, don't help to explain things, and it's plain not funny to see an actor flub his or her lines. Regardless of the general lack of meaningful features, the audio and video are virtually perfect. There weren't too many lucky enough to see Tell No One in the theater, but this release from Music Box Films is a very good home edition.
Tell No One is a brilliant film. As thrilling as it is intelligent, in the end it still leaves a bunch of questions that stick in your mind and keep you thinking for days. The performances are strong all around and Canet shows an assurance behind the camera for only his second film. There are a few pieces to the plot that may not connect if you think about it too hard, but those minor inconsistencies and tangents are part of the fun in a thriller. There is nothing negative to say about Tell No One and it will warrant many, many viewings over the years. All fans of thrillers owe it to themselves to see this film as soon as possible.
Not Guilty. Tell everyone.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted scenes