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By KJ Doughton | July 7, 2008

Dr. Alex Beck (Francois Cluzet) is evaluating an ailing tot when his phone rings. It’s his attorney, telling him to get the hell out of Dodge. This kindly French pediatrician dutifully juggles the tense news with his ongoing office call. The young patient and his accompanying mother sense a sudden tension in the air. Within seconds, the doctor is fleeing through a window behind his desk – without losing any of his bedside manner.

“Tell No One” is a French variation on “The Fugitive,” but it’s a more subtle, discreet animal. Like the Andrew Davis classic, this man-on-the-run nail biter concerns a doctor smarting from the loss of his wife and framed for murder. But you won’t find Dr. Beck acrobatically leaping off dam spillways, escaping crashed prison buses, or outrunning trains. (No Parkour-style diving off buildings either, like fellow Frenchman Cyril Raffaelli of “District B-13”.) Cluzet’s understated hero isn’t superman, and during the film’s key set-piece – a foot chase through Paris streets and freeways – we’re gripping our armrests knowing that this is a mere mortal facing potential doom.

Based on the novel by Harlan Coben, “Tell No One” begins with the good doctor’s wife Margot being murdered. The affectionate couple enjoys a nude swim one evening at a favored lake. In an unexpected burst of chaos, the lovers are attacked and Margot killed. Or was she? Eight years later, Beck receives a computer video file depicting a very alive Margot, seemingly speaking from beyond the grave as she looks into the camera and warns, “Tell no one. We’re being watched.” Other bizarre discoveries wash onto the shore of Beck’s lonely life. Shady photos of a bruised-and-beaten Margot surface in a safe-deposit box. Buried bodies are uncovered. Authorities start snooping around, suggesting to Beck that he’s a suspect in his wife’s demise.

It’s refreshing to see a thriller in which all of this information makes sense, falling into place as pieces of a coherent puzzle. Call it the M. Night Shamalayan curse, but if I see one more “twist ending” inexplicably materialize from pompous screenwriter air, I’m gonna puke projectile. Characters you would never suspect suddenly play key roles in the mystery of Margot’s whereabouts. Seemingly unsympathetic souls choose heroic paths without seeming contrived.

Meanwhile, Beck might be a doctor, but he drives a scruffy car, inhabits a shabby office, and doesn’t dress in Armani suits. It’s unique to observe an onscreen professional living a humble existence – probably spending most of his income paying off student loans. Director Guillaume Canet also employs an eerie combination of soundtrack songs, including U2’s “With or Without You,” to accent Beck’s rediscovery of a lost love.

“Tell No One” definitely features a villain, but it’s more interested in the aftermath of one despicable act, and how seemingly normal people will go to great lengths to preserve their own versions of justice. Through it all, Dr. Beck trudges on, in his intelligent, low-key way, eventually making it through this maze towards a happy retribution. Ultimately, the sense of hope that prevails in “Tell No One” is its most original twist.

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