Sony // 2009 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // July 2nd, 2010
If the one you love was lying to you, how far would you go to find out the truth?
Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) wades into Adrian Lyne territory with Chloe, a slick-looking, deliberately paced pseudo-erotic thriller with an A-list cast.
Gynecologist Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore, Savage Grace) is convinced her husband, David (Liam Neeson, Taken), is having an affair. After a chance meeting with beautiful, young prostitute Chole (Amanda Seyfried, Mean Girls), Catherine enlists the girl to make overtures toward David. Chloe starts meeting with Catherine and describing her encounters with David, which become increasingly intimate. Catherine is horrified and disturbed, but despite herself, also intrigued.
But Chloe starts to insinuate herself into Catherine's life in ways that go beyond a client/professional relationship, and when Catherine decides to cut her off, Chloe will have none of it. As Catherine starts to realize that Chloe is not all that she seems, the doctor becomes concerned for the safety of her family -- and herself.
If Chloe were as successful as Egoyan's ambitions for it, the film would have been an instant classic; instead, it seems more like something you'd see on late-night cable than a thought-provoking treat you'd catch at a specialty theater. Egoyan seems torn between making an erotic thriller-as-character study and a character study-as-erotic thriller, and the result is a slow-moving muddle that works as neither.
Egoyan and Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) used the French film Nathalie... as the basis for Chloe, but admit to making changes so their film would be more North America friendly. While I haven't seen Nathalie..., I suspect -- based on the commentary with Egoyan and Wilson and reviews I've read of the French production -- that something might have been lost in translation.
The film opens with a voice-over from Chloe -- a rather trite voice over, giving the whole hooker spiel about the chameleon-like nature of the job -- leading us to believe the film is going to be about her. It isn't. This is Catherine's story, and Catherine is well-off, well-married, controlling as all get out, neurotic as the day is long, and just not all that interesting.
We see Catherine at work, courteously but curtly explaining to a patient how orgasms work. We see Catherine at home, overseeing an elaborate birthday party for her husband -- only David, who's been out of town, doesn't show for his own party, explaining that he missed his plane. This event, coupled with a text message from one of his students that Catherine intercepts, kicks off her long road of facade crumbling and provides the impetus for the film's plot.
Egoyan uses lots of external references to let us know about Catherine -- his favorite motif is windows, with Catherine constantly looking out at the world from "her perch" (as he describes it in his commentary). But we really don't get to know her. Egoyan seems to want this to be a portrait of a controlling woman, but Moore plays her as constantly on the brink of quiet hysteria. It's a brittle, inaccessible performance. To show her character's controlling and restrained nature, Moore sometimes adopts a professional-sounding voice that makes it seem like she's narrating a high school hygiene film. Only once, in a scene near the end with Neeson, is she allowed to let her guard down, and Moore's sensitivity and honesty make this somewhat clumsily written scene work.
The film is rife with visual symbols, none more prominent than Catherine and David's house. While this is actually someone's home (in Toronto), it's not a friendly piece of architecture. Unwelcoming, uncluttered, with lots and lots of windows, it's a construct of polygons and cubes, everything coming neatly together in perfect right angles. While this could be read as a representation of Catherine's obsessively controlling nature, it's also an apt metaphor for the film: smooth, sterile, and ultimately square.
As an "erotic thriller," it's divided a little too neatly into equal parts. The erotic portion takes up the film's first half, as Chloe's detailed reports of her meetings with David are shown to us in gauzy, beautifully lit asides underscored with lush music. The thriller portion crops up in the second half, when obsession overtakes orgasm and one character goes mutedly off the rails. The erotic elements are pretty humdrum, and the thrills fairly non-existent. There's little in the way of on-screen sex or nudity, save for a scene in the middle of the film that's key to the plot but feels inorganic and a tad exploitative.
As the titular hooker, Seyfried is a little too all-American to pull off the role of enigmatic seductress. She's certainly attractive -- that part makes sense -- but it's hard to buy into her inner life and deep secrets, key to the film's success. Neeson is strong and solid in an underwritten part. This was the film Neeson was working on when his wife, Natasha Richardson, died; reportedly, Egoyan and Wilson were set to rewrite his part, but the actor came back while he was grieving to finish his scenes.
Sony's disc offers a good transfer and audio track, as you'd expect from a recent film. In addition to the commentary -- which also features a little input from Seyfried and is subtitled -- we get a well-done, 25-minute "Making of" that features the three main cast members as well as Egoyan, Wilson, and Producer Ivan Reitman, deleted scenes, and a trailer that makes the film seem far more daring and sexy than it actually is.
While the film is less-than satisfying, Egoyan and Wilson's commentary makes the disc worth at least a rental. Egoyan notes at one point that DVD commentaries with filmmakers tend to become backslapping fests, and this one is certainly meatier than most. While the director has glowing words for the cast and crew, he and Wilson spend most of their time analyzing the film. Refreshingly, Egoyan makes clear that, despite having made the film, the opinions he's offering are not the "last word," and that he expects and accepts other interpretations. His analyses are quite fluid, often proposing questions as to why a character has acted in a certain way rather than stating, "This is why that person did this thing." Near the end, he offers an interpretation that is very intriguing. It would take a lot of reconsidering to make this interpretation work, but it's an interesting take.
Despite a good cast and a usually interesting director, Chloe just doesn't come together. While the commentary is a terrific listen, the film is underwhelming.
For Egoyan completists; otherwise, guilty of promising more than it delivers.
Review content copyright © 2010 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes