- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by Bob Westal
orbid curiosity seems to be one of the most common side effects of sexual jealousy and can be extremely hazardous to your mental and physical health. It definitely threatens to work out that way for the middle-aged, and all too aware of it, protagonist of "Chloe," Catherine Stewart, M.D. (Julianne Moore). David, her successful professor husband (Liam Neeson), fails to appear one night at the ultra-chic surprise birthday soiree she's planned; then she finds a suspicious text message from a pretty student. Rather than simply confronting her husband, the very busy gynecologist (what other specialty should she have?) instead turns to a recent chance acquaintance, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a prostitute with a slightly eccentric demeanor.
Catherine decides to pay the startlingly sexy, very young, woman to fabricate chance encounters with David and then report back on whether David seems prone to staying on the marital straight and narrow. When Chloe's reports indicate the contrary and the hooker appears to take a bit more initiative than was requested, Catherine is upset, of course, but that's not all. She's turned on. From there it gets even more interesting, and by "interesting" I mean "erotic thriller interesting." Chloe's interests, it seems, may be more than professional, and that becomes even more problematic when the Stewarts' lovelorn 17-year-old son (Max Thierot) enters the mix.
A freaky three-way collaboration between Canada's resident deep-dish art-house director, Atom Egoyan ("The Sweet Hereafter"), one of its most famed comedy exports, producer Ivan Reitman, and playwright/screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson ("Secretary"), "Chloe" is a slickly produced, engaging combination of two honorable movie traditions: art flicks and trash cinema. A number of critics have already written off this coolly filmed but deliberately overheated melodrama as a chic variant on the "Fatal Attraction" school of sexually charged but mentally bereft Hollywood melos. I think they may be missing the point of this sneaky, languorous, and thoughtfully salacious exploration into the outer realms of sexual and familial love. An inventively exaggerated and amped-up adaptation of a somewhat literal minded French non-thriller, Anne Fontaine's 2003 "Nathalie," "Chloe" is, for me, the kind of movie that could threaten to give remakes a good name.
Director Egoyan's slow-burning style may at times test our patience as he misses some openings for intentional humor in Wilson's screenplay – a huge, if risky and not always overtly logical, improvement over the too literal original – but he is in any case a consistently interesting and accomplished director. He illustrates the emotional issues here nicely, always giving his actors plenty of time to express themselves directly and using slow, steady camera moves to heighten the tension. "Chloe" is also an unusually sumptuous movie. Egoyan clearly relishes the chance to indulge in a lush visual approach which rather directly evokes his favorite film, Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo."
Sadly, "Chloe" may wind up being remembered as the picture that Liam Neeson was close to wrapping when his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, died suddenly last year. Neeson does look notably drawn in certain very brief shots, but his performance is up to the actor's usual high level and, in any case, this movie really does belong to Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried in the title role. Both actors play things very close to their vests (arguably too closely at times), but their work together here is what captures attention. And, no, I'm not talking about the nudity of both women in the film or about what's sure to be become the film's most famous scene, at least among horny males of all ages – except that now I am. In any case, Seyfried, who has up to now usually portrayed relatively conventional ingénue characters in projects like "Mamma Mia," "Jennifer's Body," and HBO's "Big Love," brings a bit of crazed danger and burgeoning femme fatale-style flavor in a role that may well widen her choice of parts. Moore, a personal favorite of this writer, turns in a typically strong movie star performance in a prickly and, as written, not always sympathetic part that could easily have thwarted lesser talents.
How you react to "Chloe" will depend largely on your willingness to bend with the melodramatic, movie-sex-laden flow. There are undeniable slow spots and, in the manner of most thrillers, a bit of logical behavior by its main character would stop the drama in its tracks. The story is certainly open to being made fun of, but unlike the film it's based on, it doesn't wither on the dramatic vine by playing things way too safely. "Chloe" is vibrant, beautiful, and although not quite as erotic as it would like to be or as you might expect given the content, still engaging and somewhat moving. Cinephile cynics may dismiss this as Atom Egoyan's "paycheck" picture, but I suspect those who follow him in the future may end up reexamining it a decade or so down the road and perhaps find it to be as valid as his strictly art house work.