Directed by: Atom Egoyan (Ararat)
Starring: Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Max Thieriot
Atom Egoyan’s Chloe is a movie with a lot of things going for it. It’s stylishly directed and every inch a rich-looking production. Julianne Moore gives a terrific central performance. Liam Neeson nearly matches her in a performance that is more complex than it seems to be on the surface, when you look at it within the context of the whole film. Amanda Seyfried may not be in their league—her performance is uneven, occasionally on the mark, occasionally almost amateurish—but when she scores, she’s very good indeed. It’s also something of a treat to see a movie shot in Toronto where the city is allowed to play itself, rather than be used as a stand-in for “insert name of big U.S. city here.”
While Chloe has so much going for it, the film also has two things working against it. The lesser of these is strictly a question of class-consciousness. The main characters live in such a rarefied upscale world of privilege that it’s hard to work up a great deal of sympathy for their angst: real, imagined or self-created. At least they keep working at their jobs through it all. If this were a Hollywood production, everyone would just stay at home and stew in their misery on an apparently magically conjured income. More troublesome is the film’s plot, however.
The premise of Chloe is solid enough. It revolves around gynecologist Catherine Stewart (Moore), a middle-aged woman who has become insecure in her looks and appeal—and who has become increasingly suspicious that husband David (Neeson) is unfaithful. The fact that David’s job as a professor of music has him surrounded by pretty young co-eds (with whom he tends to flirt) only makes her suspicions that much worse—especially after he bails on his birthday party and stays overnight on a conference trip. That he seems to take sex rather casually—letting their son Michael (Max Thieriot, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl) have girlfriend Anna (Nina Dobrev) sleep over—only fuels the fire. So Catherine resolves to find out what’s going on.
To test David’s faithfulness, she hires a prostitute, Chloe (Seyfried), to come on to him and see what happens. OK, so now things are getting a little preposterous, especially since this is a scenario that’s rife with comedic possibilities. (Ferenc Molnar explored it with a jealous husband and a possibly unfaithful wife about 100 years ago in his play The Guardsman.) None too surprisingly, Chloe accomplishes her goal—at first to Catherine’s dismay. But as things progress, Catherine finds herself getting aroused by Chloe’s tales of her trysts with David—as if she’s having a vicarious love life with her own husband. And while this is psychologically interesting, it’s where the story starts going wrong.
It’s impossible to discuss the problems with the rest of Chloe without at least flirting with spoilers, so bear that in mind before you read on. The first problem lies in an aspect of the story that stares you in the face: Why on earth should Catherine take what Chloe tells her at face value? Well, she shouldn’t—and we don’t—but she does. This is mostly because in its heart of hearts Chloe is a silly late 1980s or early 1990s psychosexual thriller—a kind of Sapphic variant on Fatal Attraction (1987), with a good dose of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) thrown in for good (or bad) measure. And, yes, it all leads to a melodramatic climax that all the psychological subtext and style in the world can’t overcome. Chloe is enjoyable, but it starts out by promising to be considerably more. Rated R for strong sexual content, including graphic dialogue, nudity and language.