LITTLE ROCK Tell No One is one of the best films to open in Arkansas this year. Too bad most people have never heard of it.
While it was a mini-sensation in its native France, with nine Cesar (the French Oscar) nominations and four wins, it took nearly two years for the film to secure an American distribution deal. The reason for this is as apparent as it is sad - the movie was considered too complicated for American audiences. It has a tricky plot that takes its time cohering into a sensible narrative.
Add the fact that lots of people won't read subtitles and you're left with the commercial realities of art-house cinema - never mind that the movie is adapted from an American best-seller (by mystery writer Harlan Coben) and that, for a while, it was in a major studio's pipeline with Keanu Reeves set to star.
When that evaporated, French writer-director Guillaume Canet seized on the project, transposing it to France and engaging the services of talented Frenchspeaking stars such as Francois Cluzet, Nathalie Baye, Jean Rochefort, Marie-Josee Croze and Kristin Scott Thomas. And he made a magnificently confident,uncompromising film that works as much as a story of lost love as a criminal procedural.
Alex (Cluzet) is a pediatrician who has been going through the motions since his wife, Margot (Croze), was murdered eight years before in an attack that put him in a coma for a few days.
Nevertheless, he was initially a suspect in her death, which was eventually attributed to a serial killer.
But there are some loose ends concerning the case, and the discovery of two bodies in a shallow grave invites the authorities to re-examine Alex's role in Margot's murder. Almost simultaneously, Alex receives a cryptic email and video clip which seems to have come from Margot.
The plot spins around dizzily, glancing off intriguing characters whose motives and significance at first seems mysterious.
But Canet - a former actor who has a small but crucial role here - knows exactly what he is doing and is in total control of his movie even when it seems to reel drunkenly from scene to scene.
There's not a dissonant performance, but Cluzet - who looks more like a pediatrician than a leading man - is especially fine. And Francois Berleand, best known in this country for his recurring role in the Transporter movies, is the embodiment of decency as a veteran police detective intent on unknotting this Gordian puzzle.
In the end, though Canet has a knack for evoking the quiet persistence of enduring adult love, the pleasures here are more visceral than cerebral or emotional. It's really more of a thrill ride than the sort of art-house talkie you might expect. Trust it - and yourself, because it's likely you'll believe you've lost the narrative thread and are hopelessly lost - and the resolution will, in time, prove immensely gratifying.
MovieStyle, Pages 43 on 10/17/2008