Atom Egoyan's Chloe makes Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction look like Pixar films. Stars Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore, working from a script by Erin Cressida Wilson, alternately provide sex appeal and a glimpse into a pitiful window of the monotonous and the mundane.
Catherine (Moore) and David (Neeson) have a strained marriage. David is a college professor who is constantly flirting with waitresses and students, making Catherine long for the days when she was young enough to seduce him. When Catherine meets Chloe, a prostitute, she pays her to find out if David will respond to her advances. The two women meet periodically through the film, and Chloe reveals brutal details about her romantic encounters with David. As the film progresses, Chloe intertwines herself in the lives of every member of Catherine's family, including her son, Michael.
This movie is definitely not for everyone. There are multiple graphic sex scenes (which, frankly, caught me a bit off guard), and both lead actresses are very..."generous" with their performances. [Note: joking aside, both actresses gave brave performances, contributing way more than just their bodies to their roles. I want to make that 100% clear.] The pacing is a bit slow for my tastes, but there is a definite sense of atmosphere that Egoyan established well. Certain shots are partly obscured, shot through a pane of glass or a hanging curtain sheet, foreshadowing the very truths hidden throughout the film that come to light as it heads toward the climax.
Spoilers For Chloe In The Next Paragraph
There is a bit of a twist which most people should predict early in the film. Since we're in spoiler territory, I'll give it away. Chloe ends up becoming obsessed with Catherine, and every story about her romantic encounters with David were completely fabricated. The reason I say most people should pick up on this is because we are only shown those particular scenes in flashback while Chloe describes them to Catherine. We never see a real-time affair taking place between David and Chloe; Catherine is so regaled by Chloe's tales of sexual exploits with her husband (vicariously rekindling her rocky marriage) that she misses the warning signs of obsession until it's too late.
End of Spoilers
The cinematography was impressive, showing Catherine's plight with a sympathetic lens and subtly hinting at Chloe's malevolence. Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" has rarely been used to more dramatic effect than in this film, when Catherine rejects Chloe's sexual advance; Chloe's face is shown in profile with a full backlight, and the haunting opening movement of Beethoven's classic begins as the shot lingers there and we stare into the inner workings of Chloe's psyche through Seyfried's gorgeous (but here, somewhat frightening) eyes.
Neeson elevated his one-note character as best he could, but I certainly wouldn't recommend this film based on his performance alone. It was adequate overall, but I felt like there was only one scene (outside the taxi) in which he truly committed to his character. Considering the fact that his wife tragically died while he was filming this movie and he decided, just days after her death, to come back and finish his work on the film, I think we can give him a pass this time around.
Sadly, the story felt a bit too familiar for me. This film, a remake of a 2003 French movie called Nathalie, was co-written by Nathalie's screenwriter and seemed to suffer from a bit of Hollywood syndrome. I haven't seen Nathalie, but I wonder how different (if at all) the ending is to Chloe, not shackled by the Hollywood system. As a general rule, I prefer judging movies on their own merits and try to avoid comparing them to other films; however, one could easily make the case that Chloe belongs in the same pack as the erotic thrillers of the 80's and 90's, but with an extra dose of Cialis tossed in to liven things up.
I can't shake the uneasy feeling that women are portrayed in a less-than-flattering light in this movie, although the beautiful actresses might lead you to believe otherwise. Although the film certainly spends a lot of time on Catherine's middle-aged despair, Chloe seems to condense Catherine's reason for existence into a typical "pleasing the husband" mindset and never devotes enough time to Chloe's character for the audience to understand her motivations. If you want to see more of Amanda Seyfried than you've ever seen before (both in terms of acting and, uh, assets) and more Julianne Moore than you'll ever want to see, Chloe is the film for you. Unfortunately, that's about all I can promise from this one. Until next time...