Not Rated

Guillaume Canet's complicated Tell No One isn’t easy viewing, but it's worth the effort. And if you pay close attention (taking notes will help), this suspense thriller will make more sense than its similarly complicated classic genre antecedent, The Big Sleep.

A latecomer to the U.S. marketplace, the film won César awards for Best Director and Best Actor but would have copped the booby prize for Plot Easiest to Follow. No matter. For those who stay in their seats and focus (no popcorn breaks), the film is a delicious outpouring of upper-crust malevolence, hovering cynicism and ever-deepening ambivalence that zigzags dizzyingly among its many characters, locations and plot turns.

Packed between book-ended bucolic sequences occurring years apart is the complicated story of newly married Paris-based pediatrician Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet), whose wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze) was brutally murdered eight years earlier at the couple's remote lakeside hideaway where they had met as kids.

Alexandre carries on with his work, all but drowning in grief over the loss. It is only his close friendship with his sister Anne's lover Hélène (Kristin Scott Thomas) that mitigates his pain. Audiences who seek to tame this gnarly plot may want to jot down that Anne (Marina Hands) is an experienced rider in horse-jumping competitions. Audiences expecting a little Sapphic sizzle should be advised that the women's relationship comes across as nothing more than a gal-bonding thing.

Alexandre's personal struggle intensifies when two bodies are discovered near what had been the young couple's retreat and suspicious eyes turn on him. Also emerging is a key that unlocks a safe with incriminating photos and more evidence implicating Alexandre.

Adding confoundingly to what will be the narrative pile-up is the anonymous e-mail he receives with a link attached, sending him to what appears to be a live webcam video of his wife. There's also the ominous warning to “tell no one, they're watching.”

Rabbit holes, Chinese boxes and halls of mirrors emerge as the story grows more complex, with “wrong man” on the run Alexandre trying to unravel the mystery of his wife’s fate, extricate himself from suspicion, and shake the cops.

His tortuous journey and ultimate flight from authorities lead him to a multitude of characters as the Hitchcock vibes escalate. There's Jacques Laurentin (André Dussollier), Margot's slightly dodgy father; Eric Levkowitch (François Berléand), the wily chief detective on the case; Gilbert Neuville (Jean Rochefort), a wealthy horseshow patron and local mucky-muck with a passion for jumping competitions; and Bruno (Gilles Lellouche), Yael Gonzales (Jalil Lespert) and a fleeting female photographer, all marginal types of dubious character who thicken the narrative sauce. At least Alexandre, unlike his audience, has tough lawyer Elysabeth (Nathalie Baye) to help him through this maze.

The story may befuddle but it always engages, because Tell No One is rich in elements—top-notch acting and directing, credible dialogue, fine production design and genuine suspense—that audiences embrace. Even thrill-seekers get their thrills: Before the film's jaw-dropping (and mind-bending) denouement comes a stunning chase sequence on Paris streets that provides a French Connection-like jolt of excitement as the cops and some nasty folk try to close in on the hero.