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If Only 'Chloe' Could Be the Overheated Mess It Really Wants To Be

Chloe's art house pedigree foils it from becoming the trashy erotic thriller it so desperately wants to be.


Director: Atom Egoyan
Cast: Julianne Moore, Amanday Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Max Thieriot
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: 2009-07-13

I’ll give Chloe this: it sure looks great. With its soft focus and languid, lingering shots of faces, mouths, hair and eyes, the film is enticing and sexy, promising 90-minutes of sensual indulgence. Of course, this seductive exterior belies a hollow, cheap interior that confuses profundity with titillation, and swaps out genuine eroticism for tawdriness. I’m not sure that this is intentional, but if it is, it’s a masterstroke by director Atom Egoyan, since the actual composition of the film, then, reflects and complements its titular character, an elegant, high class prostitute. If not… well, we can still ogle the naked body of Amanda Seyfried. So there’s that…

Chloe boasts a simple premise, rich with potential. A well to do gynecologist (Julianne Moore, superb, as always) suspects her husband (Liam Neeson, excellent as always, if here underutilized) of infidelity, but has no proof. So she hires a prostitute (Seyfried) to attempt to entrap him into cheating. The prostitute reports back and starts weaving a web of erotic stories of the trysts with the husband to the woman. Neither she, nor we, knows whether the stories are true, but we do know that they begin to turn her on, and quickly she falls under Chloe’s spell.

As the relationship between the two women deepens into something more than just “business”, it starts to veer into lust, obsession and hysteria. There’s some midday sex in expensive hotels. There’s some stalking done by Chloe. The husband makes some accusations. There are tearful revelations. The woman’s son becomes involved. Things rush to a hasty climax that jars with the dreamy pace of the rest of the film. Someone falls out a window, and there’s an abrupt denouement -- and there’s some sort of totemic hairclip involved. It’s all so very serious, and very very ridiculous. I laughed… I laughed a lot.

The problem with Chloe – both the film and the character – is that its, and her, intentions may seem mysterious and complex at first, but are really muddy and shallow. We never get a hint of why Chloe does the things she does, but I don’t think this is because of some artful ambiguity or hidden pain, but simple laziness on the screenwriter’s part. The film wants us to ascribe some depth to the character that she neither deserves nor earns, but the implication is that if we can’t unravel her, then the failing is somehow on us.

Similarly, the film as a whole flounders after its promising opening, unpacking its Pandora’s box of psycho-sexual themes and then just leaving them lying around unattended as the films goes flying off into nonsense. There are hints of interweaving ideas at work – storytelling; role playing; the conflation of desire, fantasy and voyeurism; and a mother lode of mother/mothering issues. Don’t worry – the film never becomes as ponderous as it threatens to be, but neither does it become the overheated mess that it should have been.

If it had been allowed to play out to its tawdry extremes, Chloe could have been a full on campy wigout, a cross between the D-level late night Cinemax erotic thriller fare (with maybe Shannon Tweed replacing Julianne Moore) and a cautionary Lifetime Movie. All the pieces are in place, and sometimes it starts to go over the edge, but is always pulled back by Egoyan’s usual restraint.

In this case, the film’s art house pedigree works against the tendencies buried in the script. Egoyan is far too restrained a director to fully commit to reveling in the trashiness of such fare (odd, since his first big film, Erotica, was just such artsy eroticism), and the performances, though across the board good, are far too mannered and exact. It’s like Egoyan, Moore, and Neeson, are all under the impression that they are making a completely different movie from the one they are trapped in, whereas Seyfried is the only one who seems to indulge in the film’s seamy side. This disconnect (among other crimes) is what ultimately sinks Chloe from becoming the erotic camp classic it could have become.

The few bonus features do little to enlighten the viewer as to the mysteries and schizophrenic tonal shifts of Chloe. The cast and crew are all very self-congratulatory (as is to be expected), and all seem to take the film very seriously, none more so than screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson. Wilson goes to great lengths to describe how very personal the story is to her, to the point where you imagine that she is basing her script on actual life events. Instead, she’s actually basing it on the 2003 French film Nathalie…, a fact that is conveniently never mentioned.

Two deleted scenes (actually, just extensions of scenes in the film) do little to add anything to the proceedings, and the commentary track is rather soporifically dull.


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