Movie Review: Chloe
The Charlotte Observer
“The Sweet Hereafter,” one of the most memorable movies of 1997, stands out among Atom Egoyan’s body of work like a glittering diamond surrounded by costume jewelry. Now he almost inevitably builds suspense with a series of mysterious, seemingly contradictory actions, then explains things quickly and settles affairs in the most mundane manner possible. “Chloe” follows that pattern.
It comes from the French film “Nathalie,” which had a brief, tepid theatrical run in the United States in 2003. But its roots go back at least to the Middle Ages: It’s the old story of someone who tests her partner’s fidelity and realizes too late that such an examination can lead only to failure.
The doubter is Toronto gynecologist Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore). When husband David (Liam Neeson) fails to show up for a surprise birthday party, she suspects he’s having an affair. She hires an expensive call girl to meet him in a coffee shop, flirt with him and report on the result.
Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) obliges, outlining a series of meetings that end in sex and emotional involvement. Inexplicably, the angry wife finds herself titillated by these narratives and ends up enjoying a tryst with Chloe herself.
Erin Cressida Wilson’s screenplay could go in many directions from that point, but she finds the most banal with unerring accuracy. (Perhaps we can also blame Anne Fontaine, director and co-writer of the French film.) As Chloe turns her charms on David and Catherine’s vulnerable teenage son, we know the tawdry territory toward which we’re headed.
Good acting from the three principals – four, if we count Max Thieriot as the son – keeps this leaky craft afloat for quite a while. But Wilson and Egoyan start drilling holes in the bottom from the opening scene, which undermines the suspense. It’s a monologue to the camera by Seyfried, who never addresses us again, and it contains one big, unnecessary spoiler.
Many of Egoyan’s features (including “Hereafter”) have elements of sexual dysfunction near the core, but his message here is obscure.
Is he telling us that none of us can prepare ourselves for the overwhelming, disorienting impact of sex? (But it’s not sex that undoes Chloe; it’s love.) Is he warning us that sex without love is soul-destroying? To believe that, we’d have to know more about Chloe, who starts to seem like a garden-variety nut job: This is one of the few movies you’ll ever see where a title character has no back story at all.
One curiosity about the film: Though Egoyan is Canadian, and the film was shot in Toronto (where he lives), not a soul in it seems to come from that country. I’ve been to the last 11 Toronto International Film Festivals, and those folks have a definable accent. But that, like everything else in this movie, has been smoothed blandly away.