In his review of Guillame Canet‘s Tell No One, a superb French thriller that I finally saw this afternoon, New Yorker critic David Denby writes that he “realized I was very happy that everyone was speaking French. The reason is simple: an American version of this material would have had too many explosions and far too much violence in general, and it would have been similar to 30 other thrillers made here during the past ten years.”

Tell No One director Guillame Canet (left, holding steadi…excuse me, a mojocam) shooting chase chase sequence with Francois Cluzet (right).

Truer words have rarely been spoken. It’s not that Tell No One, which involves murder, thugs, cops, gangstas, shootings, chases and the like, lacks thrills and intrigue. But it doesn’t brandish the cloddish brute machismo that you have to accept with if you’re going to watch a thriller made in this country.
American crime pics are about their stories and characters, sure, but they’re also about topping the last successful thriller in terms of visceral impact or stylistic panache. Their producers don’t want 15 year-old kids telling each other, “The shoot-out scene in that movie last month was a lot cooler.”
Tell No One is aimed at viewers who’ve had a year or two of college, read a book occasionally and have made it past the grand old age of 25. It plays its own game and sets its own standards. A little quieter, a lot smarter and much more riveting than…now I’m trying to think of a recent American murder-mystery I’ve really liked. It’s been a while.
Tell No One is based on an American mystery novel by Harlan Coben, but director Guillaume Canet, working with the screenwriter Philippe Lefebvre, “has set Coben’s material in a realistic social and working world where good-looking, intelligent, and articulate people find one another interesting,” as Denby notes. “La belle France! This emphasis on sociability is not unusual in French commercial filmmaking, but it’s virtually unknown in genre movies made here these days. There is violence — some of it startling, all of it significant — but that’s not what the movie is about.”
It’s also interesting as hell because the lead actor, Francois Cluzet, is almost a dead ringer for Dustin Hoffman, or rather Hoffman as he looked around the time of Rain Man, Family Business and Dick Tracy. It’s like watching Hoffman’s twin brother since he has a similar acting style, keeping the tension tucked inside but always radiating intelligence and paying close attention, etc.
It’s doubly fascinating that Canet puts Cluzet through a terrific foot-chase sequence in Paris, since it recalls the nocturnal running-through-Manhattan scene that a bare-chested Hoffman performed in Marathon Man.