DIR: Atom Egoyan • WRI: Erin Cressida Wilson, Anne Fontaine • PRO: Jeffrey Clifford, Joe Medjuck, Ivan Reitman, Simone Urdl, Jennifer Weiss • DOP: Paul Sarossy • ED: Susan Shipton • DES: Susan Shipton • CAST: Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried
Chloe, the latest from Armenian/Canadian director Atom Egoyan follows hot on the heels of his previous offering, the mind-numbingly dull and pretentious treatise on terrorism, memory and truth which was Adoration. His latest, an erotic thriller, is more of a mainstream genre piece, and marks a return towards form for the man who gave us Exotica (1994) (shortlisted for the Palm D’Or) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997) which earned Egoyan a nomination for best director at the Oscars®.
Chloe tells the story of Catherine, a successful gynecologist played by the extremely bankable and reliable Julianne Moore, who, suspecting her music lecturer husband David (Liam Neeson) of infidelity, hires Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a young escort to test David’s resolve against her seduction techniques. Catherine meets up surreptitiously with Chloe for updates on her husband’s alleged misadventures and seems initially reluctant to be regaled by the saucy details but is masochistically turned on by the lurid accounts, reminding her of her redundant sexual relations with her husband. Catherine’s relationship with Chloe is initially intended to be on purely business terms but develops uneasily as Chloe’s obsessive mental state is exposed and her motives, as well as Catherine’s, become questionable and increasingly disturbing.
The movie opens beautifully where the juxtaposition of the lavish and fetishistic dressing of Chloe and her sexy attire is set in stark contrast to her cool voiceover outlining the raison d’être for her choice of occupation, citing it as a necessary economic and social function. Egoyan then paints the picture of a seemingly successful upper middle class marriage expertly; all opera, fancy restaurants and dinner parties, but all is not well behind the sparkly champagne-tinged veneer as David misses his own surprise birthday party and Catherine intercepts an ambiguous photo message on his phone from one of his female students. Catherine is struggling to cope with a stagnant sexual life, her husband’s flirtations directed at younger women and her own perceived undesirability. She even seems jealous of her teenage son’s active sexual life as she reprimands him for sleeping with his girlfriend. She seems disillusioned with sex, describing an orgasm to a female patient who has never experienced one as simply ‘a series of muscle contractions’ – a reflection of her own frustrations. Egoyan tackles the issues of supposedly exclusive male infidelity, female suspicion and insecurities over the ageing process, weaving them together and fleshing them out in the suspense-laden narrative.
Neeson gives an assured performance as David, an ageing and egotistic lothario with a penchant for seedy flirtation, while Moore excels as the elegant but neurotic spouse (close to Desperate Housewife character Bree), despite veering towards haughty melodrama at times. Amanda Seyfried gives a confident performance as the Cherub-faced, titular character, a far cry from the all singing, all dancing blonde teenybopper of Mamma Mia. However, her performance as a black widow lacks the bite of Glenn Close’s in Fatal Attraction or Sharon Stone’s Basic Instinct. While her childlike vulnerability and Lolitaesque sexuality is used to good effect as she expertly manipulates members of Catherine’s family, it ultimately stops her from seeming really threatening and dangerous. The main problems however, lie in the screenplay where it seems Egoyan ran out of steam when writing the third act. The film, although pieced together nicely until the last third, and shot beautifully with a lustrous score, peters out quite undramatically in its staid and clichéd climax – hardly the bunny boiler scene of Fatal Attraction. The accompanying denouement also seems hurried and unrealistic. The sex scenes are erotically charged, one standout scene in particular between two of the main characters, without giving too much away will surely rank highly on some Channel Four Top 100 countdown show in the near future, and is slightly reminiscent of a scene in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr.
Chloe marks a significant thematic departure for the Armenian/Canadian auteur whose previous films have mainly explored issues of displacement and personal alienation and isolation in a technological age. Egoyan can’t help but expose his Luddite preoccupations however, in a scene where Chloe gives a CD to Catherine’s teenage son extolling to him the virtue of this antiquated but personalised medium over the alienating practice of MP3s and filesharing. Apart from this diversion, Chloe stays close to formulaic mainstream territory. It is an accomplished but flawed genre piece, an erotic melodrama when it should have been a thriller.