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French Thriller 'Tell No One' Gains Momentum In U.S.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now to MORNING EDITION and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan, who has a story of an independent film that had a hard time getting into theaters, but is now it's doing great box office business.

KENNETH TURAN: It's "Tell No One," a splendid French thriller with a plot so twisty, you may forget to breathe. A young doctor and his wife enjoy a rendezvous at a lake, and then she is brutally murdered.

(Soundbite of movie, "Tell No One")

Unidentified Man: Margot.

Unidentified Woman: (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of water splashing)

TURAN: Eight years later, the doctor suddenly receives an anonymous email message...

(Soundbite of beep)

TURAN: ...suggesting that she may still be alive. Tell no one, the message ends. We're being watched. Soon the doctor is living a broad daylight nightmare that would make Alfred Hitchcock envious, complete with incompetent cops and compelling car chases.

(Soundbite of tires screeching)

TURAN: "Tell No One" started out in only a few U.S. theaters, but it's now playing on close to 100 screen in dozens of cities. And its word-of-mouth success inspired the Hollywood Reporter to headline, "French Thriller Mounting Thrilling Run." But no one saw this American success coming, though it's based on a novel by bestselling author Harlan Coben and was a critical and financial hit all across Europe.

Instead, "Tell No One" languished for two years with no U.S. distribution deal, until it was picked up by a tiny but intrepid Chicago company called Music Box Films.

So, what scared off all those bigger American distributors? The likely answer is the same situation that initially hampered the wildly popular Irish film "Once" last year. Both films had trouble getting American distribution because of a conflict between what movie insiders call playability and marketability.

"Tell No One" had playability. People who came to see it loved it. But without marketability like big stars or a fancy director that could lure people into the theater in the first place, no distributor wanted to take it. But "Tell No One" is catnip for audiences who love smart thrillers the way they used to make them. People who see it and love it tell their friends, and that word-of-mouth is making "Tell No One" into a success.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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