Tell no one (Ne le dis à personne)

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Screen grab from the movie Tell No One - Man running from the police

"Part of being a doctor is patience"

Feb 20th, 2012

I've always wanted to watch Tell no One from when I first watched the trailer as the initial story presented seemed an intriguing one. Now having finally seen the film it brought up thoughts of a discussion I've had with numerous people over the years. Usually when it comes to foreign releases they receive unanimous praise (Tell No One also received positive reviews) even when the film is of average to poor quality. Tell No One falls into the above category.

I get the feeling that people tend to praise or at least hype foreign movies more to do with the image of watching such a film and its associations. For some reason people seem to class watching a subtitled film as high art and/or intellectually superior. It's a perception that many have with a whole community of people refusing to watch subtitled films because they don't want to use their brains. The truth is imported movies are just films where the cast speak in another language watch a French dub of Terminator and you get the same film, no better or worse. Every country makes bad films and good ones and I feel we should judge the movie not where it's from or what it has accomplished in getting made.

Tell No One is a thriller that rarely manages to tread new ground in the genre but is quite competently pieced together. Alexandre Beck fails to protect his wife from a serial killer as he is knocked unconscious. 8 years later Beck receives an email holding a video file of his wife shot only days earlier and is told to tell no one and await further contact. At the same time a series of bodies are discovered putting Beck in the frame and implicating him in his wife's supposed murder. On the run from the police and determined to prove his innocence Beck needs to uncover the mystery of the emails.

Everyone loves a good mystery and it's hard to deny that Tell No One has an interesting one but the pacing and the presentation of the movie are at odds with the core tale. The main thrust of the story doesn't kick in until a third of the way through. This isn't a bad thing if the focus had been on building character relationships (an important factor throughout) but the single most important motivation, Becks relationship with his wife is rushed.

The opening sequence leading up to her death (or maybe it isn't) is all too brief and seems more focused on showing off the lead actresses arse as she goes skinny dipping. The one scene of dialogue we get with the couple suggests they are happy but it's hard to know what their true dynamic is from a few short lines. Following this Beck is conked on the head. This is where the next problem arises.

We never get to see what happens after that knock on the head, no reaction, no aftermath, no hospital scene as we immediately skip to 8 years later. Most of what happened is explained through dialogue and while that's all fine and dandy it makes it hard to relate to Beck. This is also increased by François Cluzet who plays Beck, his style of acting seems to be one of minimalistic expression making him hard to read. As accusations are flung its hard not to consider that they may indeed be fact which is a bad place to have your hero in.

Given the above synopsis and the trailer you'd be forgiven for thinking this is an action movie. While there are a couple of sequences of let's say increased movement the entire film is a more cerebral affair. Up until the halfway point the mystery remains strong (if a little slow) especially with the emergence of an extra faction of hit men who are determined to find Becks wife if she does indeed still live. The only trouble is as a couple of the treads are closed off (and a major revelation) the mystery that kept me watching no longer held any weight. Trying to discover the identity of the culprit for the films events was not as interesting as the films initial mystery.

That said it's hard not to respect the final reveal even with its Scooby Doo finale where the culprit explains away all the steps that lead to that point (interestingly I hear that the culprit of the movie was changed from that of the book). Unfortunately it all falls apart when even more back-story is forced into the final moments to try and make it more personal (as if it wasn't already) where the villain essential says "Oh I almost forgot, I also killed your dad a character that hasn't yet appeared and was only mentioned in regards to an object". It's not a spoiler because it really means nothing.

There are quite a few peripheral characters that amount to little more than obstacles in Brent's search for his possibly dead wife. The only other significant characters are Brent's sister (still a small role) and her wife played by Kristen Scott Thomas. Hélène (Thomas) has a meatier role and quite often alludes to her rocky relationship with Brent's sister. Once we hit the final reveal the characters disappear without a conclusion to their small arc. It's a shame.

One last niggle is the choice of title, Tell No One makes you focus upon the E-mail sent to brent and its final line but it's really not that significant. In fact Tell Everyone would be more apt, from discussions of the E-mail to covert ops retrieving the information it really means nothing considering there are no repercussions for breaching the supposed rule. I get the feeling Tell No One was more of a hook to get bums in seats.

Although I've picked on a few aspects (and some larger plot holes that are never plugged once the credits begin) the film is actually enjoyable and as I mentioned before the mystery is quite intriguing. Every actor really feels like a fully fleshed out creation (even the minimalistic Cluzet) which makes the events seem more realistic even with the more over the top elements. Tell No One is Not a bad film it's just not a masterpiece and that's ok.

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Movie Details

Tell No One Poster
Director: Guillaume Canet
Screenplay: Guillaume Canet
Philippe Lefebvre
Released: 2006
Rating: 15
Starring: François Cluzet
Marie-Josée Croze
Kristin Scott Thomas