Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Is Stephen Holden on Crack?

Kristin Scott Thomas stares at an employee's ass (seriously, that's what she's doing) in Tell No One

Or is he just easily swayed by subtitles? As I read his ecstatic review of Guillaume Canet's Tell No One this morning (ecstatic might be something of an understatement; Holden practically orgasms on readers' faces as he raves about the film), I was reminded of his over-the-top praise for Marion Cotillard's performance in La Vie en Rose, and again I was slightly baffled. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Tell No One (which I first saw last year when it came out on DVD in the UK -- behold the power of the region-free DVD player), is a bad movie, because it isn't. It's as well-crafted and absorbing as any recent thriller I can think of. It just isn't something you mention in the same breath as Vertigo or The Big Sleep.

Its plot is so rambling and nonsensical that I don't dare try to describe it here, other than to say it's about a doctor named Alex (played by François Cluzet, who is morphing into a kind of Parisian Dustin Hoffman as he ages), whose wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze of The Barbarian Invasions) was murdered eight years ago. Or was she? Alex, who has never emerged from the fog created by her death, starts to have doubts when he logs onto Yahoo! one day to find mysterious messages -- somewhat miraculously, they have nothing to do with naughty co-eds with webcams or pills that cure erectile dysfunction -- suggesting she might still be alive.

As the mystery deepens, the story gets increasingly (and eventually egregiously) preposterous, and it is modern technology, the very thing that gives Alex a reason to search for answers, that ends up being one of the chief reasons the plot doesn't work. Tell No One, which was based on a novel by the American writer Harlan Coben (himself no Raymond Chandler) is ultimately the kind of movie that works best in a foreign language; the French scenery and subtitles distract from an endless stream of contrivances that would seem more glaring in, say, a Michael Mann production of the same material. What sets it apart from other, similar movies is actor Guillaume Canet's confident and sensitive direction. The characters in Tell No One might be a little slow on the uptake, but they're presented as real people, not simply pawns in elaborate conspiracies, and are always afforded their dignity.

Minor quibbles include some odd casting decisions and the loud, mournful soundtrack. Yes, Jeff Buckley's version of "Lilac Wine" is excellent. No, it doesn't need to star in its own three-minute segment in a movie. As for the use of U2's "With or Without You," it had the unfortunate effect of making me burst into laughter, which isn't quite what Canet was aiming for. The casting of Cluzet, who is in his early fifties, and the thirtysomething Croze as childhood sweethearts is a head-scratcher, but Cluzet's Cesar-winning performance is possibly the best of his career. There's a similar age difference between Marina Hands, who plays Alex's equestrian sister, and Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays her long-term partner (and Alex's only confidante); that Scott Thomas and Cluzet are peers makes their characters' relationship particularly believable, and the actors have an easy rapport that makes their scenes together some of the movie's best.

Tell No One is now playing in limited release in U.S. theaters, presumably with a DVD release to follow. Suspense fans will find it a welcome summertime treat, and for all you fiendish lesbians who just want the cold, hard facts on the extent of its girl-girl action, I'll have you know there's just a brief kiss or two (gratuitous screen grab below) and a few domestic scenes between Hands and Scott Thomas.

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