Guillaume Canet. 2006.
Tell No One is one of those thrillers that feels like it will never reach a point where the main character finally figures out what the hell is happening to him and when he does, you’ll wish he never actually did. Throughout the two hour runtime of Tell No One, the audience is kept frustratingly at bay in regards to the pieces of the puzzle that writer/director Guillaume Canet has crafted. So much so that by the time the conclusion is revealed, it’s become clear that the point is less about wrapping up the story and more about showing how clever he has been to keep us guessing all the way until now. Not to mention the ridiculousness of said conclusion, which basically sees one character give a monologue on every event that’s happened off screen for the past eight years. Leaving the theater, a man on the escalator behind me turned to his girlfriend and said, “I’m surprised he didn’t tell us who killed JFK”. All that is to say that the ending to Tell No One is terrifically bungled. As a thriller, it thrills purely in a titillating way and never in a substantial one and when it’s over, you realize how foolish you were to even try and figure anything out.
There are some good things to talk about though. Anchored by a lead performance by François Cluzet that is pretty extraordinary, Canet crafts each of his scenes with a decent amount of tension and realism. In fact, it’s clear that Canet has seen one too many Hollywood thrillers and left thinking wishing someone would react to these situations realistically. It’s in these moments that the film succeeds the most. Cluzot does some pretty amazing things in this movie that really help ground the increasingly ludicrous plot and his performance in the last scene of the movie is so heartbreakingly perfect that it’s a shame Canet didn’t trust just his acting to be beautiful enough of a button. Instead, he surrounds the moment with a contrived setting, sweeping crane moves and a magic-hour flashback that feels choreographed by a second year film student. But man, does Cluzot nail that scene. Performances all around are airtight except for a suspect piece of acting from Kristin Scott Thomas in the first couple of scenes. The directing is also sharper than it should be for someone so young, but occasionally his inexperience gets the better of Canet. “How do I shoot five people sitting around a table? Hmm, let’s consult the textbook. Oh yeah, 360 degree dolly shots. This is gonna be awesome”. It may be harsh to harp on the execution of these scenes, especially since Canet flawlessly handles a thrilling chase scene through Paris and across a busy highway, but it happens often enough that the momentum of his successes are broken by the stumbles.
His screenplay also takes a couple of beginners shortcuts that are infuriating, such as the complete lack of grey area. Where as Gone Baby Gone reveled in creating sincere moral dilemmas for its characters at the expense of the rest of the plot, this film has way too much plot to be bothered with anything but black and white. We need it so the good guys can do questionable things and not be hated by the audience, what do we do? Make the bad guy a completely reprehensible child rapist, of course. And he beats women too.
Tell No One was one of the biggest hits of the decade in France and it’s nice to know that at least somewhere in the world a film without special effects can top the box office, but it really just goes to show that the taste for mediocre entertainment is truly the world’s only universal language.