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Tell No One
by Harlan Coben
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
[Ed. note: because of the unpredictable way accented letters are rendered
in English language browsers, they have been intentionally omitted.]
"Tell No One"
(aka, "Ne Le Dis A Personne")

Tackling the work of a master in the mystery genre of fiction, French writer-director Guillaume Canet adapts Harlan Coben's deeply detailed whodunit whose maddening suspense will play with galvanizing involvement for audiences on any continent. And, the fact that the novel was a bestseller hurts no one.

Alexandre ("Alex") and Margot Beck (Francois Cluzet and Marie-Josee Croze) were in love from the time in their pre-teen lives when it would have been considered a crush. The seriousness of their pre-pubescent emotional commitment to one another, however, was cemented by their marriage in their adult lives.

One night Alex and Margot go for a naked, midnight swim and some lovemaking on a lake deep in the woods. Awakening afterwards on an offshore dock, Margot swims for shore to get dressed. Alex comes wide awake upon hearing a muffled cry. "Margot," he yells, and dives for shore. As he rises out of the water screaming her name, he receives a blow to the head that knocks him back into the water, unconscious.

Dissolve. Eight years later. Alex is alive but still devastated by the absence and apparent death of his wife. The mystery is compounded by his own survival. Who pulled him from the water and saved his life? What did this person (or persons) have to do with Margot's capture and disappearance? And why? What did she do to anyone?

Alex has become a pediatrician and, some time back, he intervened in a furor at his hospital when Bruno (Gilles Lellouche), an ex-patient of his, is not allowing hospital personnel to touch his baby thinking they had endangered the child. Alex takes Bruno aside and uses the man's trust to calm him and take the baby, an act that saved the child's life. For this, Bruno, a mobster, takes a vow to repay the good doctor, which turns into rescuing Alex when he's pursued by the police as a prime suspect in Margot's death and, later, when he's captured by a band of killers and a cold, female torturer who want to know where Margot is.

Where Margot is? Didn't he attend the funeral and witness her being cremated? But, by this time, he knows why they're asking. He's been contacted by someone via email claiming to be her, and sees an online video copied from a security camera somewhere with a woman who looks very much like Margot staring intently into the lens--at him. His email contact tells him where and when to meet her and writes, "Tell no one. We're being watched." After a chase worthy of Jason Bourne, after sitting in wait for long excruciating minutes, Alex actually sees her. But she flees, and he goes after her.

Pictures of her beaten face have also shown up, indicating an injury she sustained that he knew nothing about. On his annual meeting with her parents, he clearly disturbs his father-in-law Jacques Laurentin (Andre Dussollier) by asking if she had serious facial injuries when he officially identified his daughter. With each new revelation the mystery grows more sinister and baffling. Two found bodies. A key in a safety deposit box. How does it all fit together? Will Alex reunite with Margot, ahead of the police and the killers? And, if so, what then?

With some alterations for the dynamics of screen storytelling, it must be said that Canet sticks close to Coben's storyline, to a fault. If there's anything wrong with his adaptation it may be carrying over too much complexity to play easily in the cinematic form. Who was behind what is a constant question (like who paid for the bank deposit box?). But, that's just one kind of reaction some viewers might have. Given that the novel on which it's based has sold over six million copies in 27 languages, there's a good chance it will pull a larger than usual foreign film crowd to American arthouses--maybe even give it one for the record books.

For American moviegoers, a remarkable movie is in store for those who can take subtitles and appreciate a superb set of actors they may not be familiar with.

One whom they will recognize because of her superb talent and extensive work in American and British film is Kristin Scott-Thomas who does delicious justice to Helene. A new role for her, she's typically sparkling as the wealthy lesbian lover of Alex's younger sister Anne (Marina Hands), a competitive horsewoman on the championship level.

The norm for the principle investigating detective in crime mysteries is the central character. Coben, however, pulls a switch by making his cop secondary to the wrongly accused husband. He does, however, invested this man with the kind of humanity that makes an intrepid gumshoe appealing. Round-faced Francois Berleand admirably invests the role with dimension and the credible honesty of a detective who looks beneath the surfaces before he accepts a flawed solution.

All of Canet's cast is well thought out and laudable. Lellouche as mobster Bruno is colorfully bad as a tough bossman who knows when and how to use his muscle in the pursuit of justice for a friend. A briefer role that stands out is Nathalie Baye as a no-nonsense defense lawyer for Alex. The always-marvelous icon of French cinema, Jean Rochefort earns your respect as the merciless, behind-the-scenes villain Gilbert Neuville, a patrician billionaire with his heart in a very bad place, indeed. As an apple who hasn't fallen far from the tree, his licentious son Philippe is played by the director. It gives nothing away to say that no character mentioned here is less than vital to the mystery.

Cluzet's modest everyman approach and inherent boyish appeal works wonders for our identifying completely with someone living a nightmare and making discoveries he's neither prepared for or willing to accept. Croze should be on everyone's list of favorite unknown film personalities. Slowly, directors are coming her way and stimulating a career that should have taken off right after her appearance provided such a lift from the morbidity of "The Barbarian Invasions" in 2003. This, and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" improve her circulation for the benefit of international audiences.

To a mostly good but generic soundtrack, guitarist Matthieu Chedid adds chordal textures that stimulate the nerves with skittish tension. His contribution works for the movie like the right wine improves a meal.

Canet is clearly a director with superb judgement in casting and with making the most out of it with his choices--as someone who's been an actor would. The balance of characters he brings to the piece does justice to the source material. What he doesn't do very well is assign himself to shoot his movie with a hand-held camera. With only one other film to his credit he hasn't yet learned what a detriment it is. One hopes he will before his next venture.

This is a whodunit on a rich appetite for action and character. It's an ingenious puzzle driven by the need to recover the central emotional connection of one's life. The author and the auteur captivate the mind with a firm grip on that theme.

Coben's latest book, "Hold Tight," is currently on best seller lists.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Francois Cluzet and Kristin Scott-Thomas
Searching for a "dead" wife before she's really killed.

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