This has been a particularly crappy summer movie season, so it's no surprise that critics are rolling out the hosannas for young French actor-director Guillaume Canet's Tell No One. But this time, they're at least somewhat justified: Canet's adaptation of an American mystery novel by Harlan Coben is more atmospheric, smartly paced, and affecting than any homegrown version would have been. Tell No One takes off from a rather familiar premise: Alex (François Cluzet), a Parisian pediatrician, learns that the wife he thought had been murdered eight years earlier might still be alive. As he tries to track her down, he finds himself drawn into a criminal labyrinth that winds its way through various strata of French society—from morally corrupt aristocrats to ruthless defense attorneys to one memorably sadistic hit woman. While it's hardly a great film, Tell No One is the rare convoluted thriller that actually makes you want to keep up with its far-fetched twists and turns.
As a director, Canet displays an occasional tendency toward glossy, TV-movie-ish images, and he doesn't take many visual risks. But he pulls off one absolutely smashing extended set piece, in which cops chase Alex across a treacherous highway and through suburban projects where neighborhood thugs are more than happy to jump into the fray. Canet also manages to coax juicy yet disciplined supporting performances from what could have been a distractingly starry cast of French-speaking actors: Special mentions go to Kristin Scott Thomas as Alex's tart-tongued lesbian confidante and François Berléand as an oddball police investigator. Best of all is Cluzet himself; he makes Alex's obsessiveness feel urgent and grandly romantic, giving the film an emotional logic that cuts right through an unnecessarily muddled denouement.