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Tell No One

Harlan Coben's 2001 suspense novel Tell No One is both a prime example of the modern page-turner, and a case study in how hard it can be for page-turners to finish strong. The book's premise is a humdinger: A widowed doctor receives e-mail and a video clip that could only be from his late wife, who was murdered eight years ago. Meanwhile, new evidence has the police reopening their investigation of that murder and pegging the doctor as the prime suspect, which makes it difficult for him to follow the instructions his wife has left him—especially the most important order, "Tell no one." The story starts at a low boil and quickly heats up, but the problem with Tell No One—a common problem with contemporary pulp literature—is that at some point, all the narrative's intriguing questions resolve with prosaic answers, delivered in long, convoluted speeches by people wielding guns.


It's a problem that writer-director Guillaume Canet can't quite solve with his big-screen adaptation of Tell No One. In some ways, Canet makes matters worse by transferring the action of Coben's novel from New York to France, which subtly changes the tone. The setting is now less cramped and ratty, and the hero's job—tending to the health concerns of inner-city kids—doesn't match up precisely with Canet's use of Paris' immigrant gangs. Plus, the necessary streamlining and alterations required by any adaptation means that Canet has to sacrifice character complexity in order to keep up with the plot, and in Tell No One, that plot comes so packed with twists and explanations that the film drags in its second hour.

That said, Coben's original premise is still strong enough to carry the movie a long way, and Canet makes some good choices, like casting François Cluzet as the doctor. With his pinched expression—something like a Gallic Dustin Hoffman—Cluzet embodies the uptightness, pain, and warmth of Coben's protagonist. And Canet gifts his star with two terrific sequences: one jittery footrace across a busy street, and one moody recollection of his life with his wife, from childhood to her death. By and large, Tell No One is more interested in telling a knotty story than pondering its meaning, but in those rare deeper moments, Canet evokes how a tragedy can gather around a man and linger there, like a cloud of gnats.

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