Movie review by Greg Carlson
“Chloe,” Atom Egoyan’s remake of Anne Fontaine’s “Nathalie,” is a voyeur’s carnival. Egoyan has never shied from the possibilities of the sex thriller, despite the genre’s tawdry reputation as soft core, late night cable fare. Several of the filmmaker’s features, including “Exotica” and “Where the Truth Lies,” managed to address undress with some measure of seriousness – or at least earnestness – even if the end products were more often than not critiqued as prurient potboilers. Egoyan’s prodigious talent, however, extends beyond the boundaries of the libidinous, confounding attempts to dismiss him as purely a purveyor of titillation.
In “Chloe,” wealthy Toronto-based gynecologist Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) suspects her professor husband of cheating. Instead of hiring a private investigator, or simply having an open and honest face-to-face discussion, she does the logical thing and commissions a sophisticated prostitute to tempt her spouse with carnal charms. Following each encounter with David (Liam Neeson), Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) reports back to Catherine, who grows increasingly flustered with every new chapter. Surprisingly, Catherine finds herself aroused by Chloe’s artful cunning, and the movie briefly offers the possibility that it might be interested in cleverly subverting some of the gender expectations of mid-life crises and the affairs that accompany them.
Despite Moore’s convincing performance, “Chloe” falters once the title character is exposed as a needy lunatic who develops a fatal attraction to her initially naïve employer. It does not help that the audience can see Chloe’s mania long before Catherine catches on, setting up a preposterous series of revelations that obliterate credulity. The Stewarts’ teenage son Michael (Max Thieriot), whose own sexual explorations with overnight guests deeply disturb Catherine, is laughably positioned by Erin Cressida Wilson’s unsteady script as final act bait. Michael may have serious mommy issues, but he still finds time to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” at piano recitals and skate for a hockey team.
Egoyan has considerably more fun making the film than the viewer has watching it, staging and framing the numerous sexual encounters with a rapturous eye unafraid to wink at his audience. The level of self-consciousness is also heightened by the application of Mychael Danna’s emphatic score, which reinforces the liquid glide of cinematographer Paul Sarossy’s roving camera. One is never sure how firmly Egoyan’s tongue is planted in his cheek, and the resulting ambiguity dooms “Chloe” from the start. Tonally, “Chloe” is too somber to be intended as outright camp.
Had Egoyan offered more insight into the motivations of the principal quartet of characters, “Chloe” might have been able to transcend its status as an amorous trifle quickly mired in the rusty mechanics and genre conventions that condemn the sex-crazed and psychotic to disproportionately applied punishments. By resorting to the dubiously moralistic and overused formula that equates the erotic with the thanatotic, Egoyan violates his own desire to examine sex intellectually as well as lustfully. The film’s ludicrous ending, a batty confrontation feverishly awash in Oedipal absurdity, concludes with the unwelcome cliché of a character plummeting from an upper-level window. It’s a disappointing ending to an unsatisfactory film.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 3/29/10.