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Double Jeopardy 

It's a telling indictment of the willingness of American audiences to watch subtitled films that writer/director Guillaume Canet's riveting Tell No One is only now being released in the United States. Two years ago, this well-crafted French thriller captured nine Cesar Award nominations and won trophies in four categories, including Best Actor and Best Director. Had the picture been philosophical, reserved, talky or allegorical, one might understand the hesitation of American distributors. But subtitles notwithstanding, this crime drama delivers the pell-mell plot that stateside viewers cherish. It even throws in a darned good chase. And it's held together with a love story for the ages.

Adapted from the novel by American writer Harlan Coben, Tell No One is the story of Alex Beck (Cesar-winning Francois Cluzet in the best role of his career), a Parisian pediatrician who married the girl he has loved from the time of his small-town boyhood. Canet captures the magic of their lifelong devotion in quick flashbacks as the grown-up couple heads to a lake for a moonlight skinny dip " Alex looking at his beautiful wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze) and seeing her with brimming eyes as the preteen schoolgirl from when they carved their initials into a tree and sweetly shared a first kiss. Fate is often cruel to lovers so devoted. Alex and Margot don't make it home from that sexy swim. Alex is beaten with a baseball bat, and Margot is brutally murdered, a crime for which a notorious serial killer is ultimately convicted.

Flash forward from the late '90s to 2005. Alex is a wonderful, caring doctor with devoted patients. But his hooded eyes tell of the hole in his heart that time has not yet patched. Then three things occur in rapid succession that catapult Alex's life from empty sorrow into harrowing chaos. Two decomposed corpses are unearthed at the lake near where Margot's body was found, one with a key to a safety-deposit box that contains photos showing Margot viciously beaten sometime long before her death. These photos and other unresolved evidence spur the police to reopen Margot's murder case with Alex as the prime suspect. Finally, Alex receives a mysterious email from someone purporting to be Margot, someone trying to arrange a clandestine meeting between them. Alex knows within reason that he's being maliciously toyed with, but his undiminished yearning for his wife propels him toward responding to the emailer.

Moving at the speed of light, the rest of the film intertwines Alex's efforts to prove himself innocent and his attempts to meet the emailer in the desperate hope of learning that somehow Margot is still alive. And what a story this turns out to be, involving Gilbert Neuville (the venerable Jean Rochefort, who can do Gallic hauteur surpassed only by Charles de Gaulle), a rich man who is pining for his beloved son Philippe (director Canet), who was murdered not long before Margot; Alex's sister Anne (Marina Hands), who was Philippe's friend, and her lover Helene Perkins (Kristin Scott Thomas); crackerjack defense lawyer Elysabeth Feldman (Nathalie Baye); sundry cops who believe that Alex is guilty and one, Eric Levkowitch (Francois Berleand), who thinks he might not be; a hoodlum named Bruno (Gilles Lellouche), who steps up to assist Alex out of gratitude for his caring treatment of his hemophiliac son; and Margot's father, Jacques Laurentin (André Dussollier), who is as tormented by the loss of his daughter as is his son-in-law. All served by dead-on performances, each of these characters is fully and memorably realized.

Tell No One is about as complicated as movies can get. We are inevitably and purposely not able to digest all the information as it comes at us. But the storytelling is so assured, we never lose confidence that we will be able to make sense of things by the time the credits roll. And even though the filmmakers ultimately resort to a contrivance unworthy of the rest of the film, in which one character unravels all the knots in the plot thread for us (in the process introducing characters we haven't met before), Canet does lead us out of his labyrinth into a convincing resolution " but not without delivering twisty surprises to the very end. Tell No One isn't finally about anything enduring, but it's a very satisfying entertainment " its rendering of Alex's love for Margot powerfully affecting from first scene to last.

click to enlarge Alex Beck (Francois Cluzet) suffers the loss of his wife to a brutal murder, only to find out years later that she might be alive. - 2008 MUSIC BOX PICTURES
  • 2008 Music Box Pictures
  • Alex Beck (Francois Cluzet) suffers the loss of his wife to a brutal murder, only to find out years later that she might be alive.


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