Sunday, September 07, 2008

Tell No One (Ne le Dis à Personne)

The crisis of an innocent man wanted for crimes he did not commit is closely identified with the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and for a brief time, Tell No One looks like it's going to be a solid French entry into the "Hitchcockian" genre. The film reaches its zenith when its hero, a pediatrician framed for murder, leads the police on a footchase through urban streets and across a busy highway. Using speeding traffic to foil cops is amusing to both the audience and the hero, and seeing this standard hallmark of a major metropolitan area treated like a wild, deep river is a nice trick (Though the hero's proud smirk at the multi-car pileup he's caused is a little worrying. Isn't this guy supposed to be a doctor?). But, while there are other good moments in the film and Tell No One is a nice, diverting mystery, it never really finds a comfortable stride. The plot is too loose and freewheeling; I spent most of the time keeping track of all the characters that populate the film and trying to pin down exactly what they were after. Worse, the film isn't front-loaded enough. Too many times, the film drops a clue that makes no sense to the audience and lets a character explain why it's meaningful. It's not nearly as much fun to be told that (hypothetically) Person X could never have fired the gun because he broke his finger the night before than it is to figure that out for ourselves. This is a film that works on a scene-by-scene basis, but, taken as a whole, it doesn't cohere.

The premise is simple, intriguing. The doctor's wife was murdered eight years in the past, but then he starts getting emails that seem to be from her. This inspires him to dig into the events of the night of her murder, and he soon finds that her death might not have been the open and shut case it once appeared to be. Soon, he's in over his head, embroiled in an elaborate conspiracy of crooked cops, seedy hoods, and equestrians that all want to take him out of the picture. As it progresses, it gets to be too much. Tell No One is far more convuluted than its structure can support. The film starts with one too many significant characters, and, like a season of Lost, makes the fatal mistake of adding on even more instead of exploring the people it started with. It all builds to an exhausting, interminable scene where somone in the know tells the hero everything that happened, but it's not satisfying. For one, the scene goes on forever and all forward momentum stops cold; the protaganist just sits there listening to the description of events. Further, the events that transpired unbeknownst to our clueless hero are so far-fetched and ridiculous, that I started getting inappropriate giggles during the explanation. Summation scenes like this are a staple in mystery stores, and (with few exceptions) I can't abide these moments. I loved a similar scene in Redbelt because the explanation did not end the movie, it only deepened my understanding of the character's problems. Plus it was over quickly.

Despite its chaotic plot and overpopulation, the filmmaking from director Guillaume Canet often has a powerful kick to it. I really enjoyed the way the movie played with time; the flashbacks here feel more like the free-associative memories of its main character than the plot points that they are. And the noisy score by "M" is a delight, reminiscent of some of the crazier choices made by Morricone or Badalamenti. At one point, the woman sitting next to me whispered to her friend, "Good soundtrack!" and she's right. Of course, she said this during a moment when U2's With or Without You was playing, a moment when the doctor makes his first positive step toward figuring out what exactly is going on around him. I pretty much don't like U2, but I still loved its use in this scene. The camera slowly creeps onto François Cluzet's face, and he cracks a very meaningful smile as the music builds and builds. It's forever changed my perception of this song, but the triumph ends too soon. The music fades out just as it's reaching a crescendo, and the movie cuts to some mundane shot of the doctor unlocking his front door. It's not just here--the movie is full of this sort of cinematticus interruptus, cutting to something else just as things start to really heat up. Whatever powerful moments exist, they're often undercut by the film's clunkiness.

Tell No One is based on a novel by Harlan Coben (a writer I have absolutely no familiarity with, and, based on the film's merits, one I won't be paying attention to anytime soon), and it bears the hallmark of an adaptation that hews too closely to its source. The surfeit of characters and plotting would feel much more at home in the expanse of a novel than the tight confines of a feature film. For all the confident charge in the filmmaking, it's just too much weight, and the story begins to stall just a few scenes after its great chase. Hitchcock once made the claim that bad books made good movies, but I think, even then, they need to be mercilessly pulped of their novelistic excesses the way plays sometimes need to be taken out of the drawing room and onto location.

Would be a good double feature with: Frantic

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