Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore in Atom Egoyan’s Chloe

Atom Egoyan’s Chloe stars Julianne Moore as a woman who suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) is cheating on her. When she hires a prostitute (Amanda Seyfried) to test his fidelity, she gets much more than she bargained for and she risks losing her whole family in the process.

Adapted by screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) from Anne Fontaine’s French language film Nathalie…, Chloe tries for and mostly achieves a delicate balance between a somewhat trashy erotic thriller and a more sensitively probing marital drama. It’s an uneasy mixture of genres that risks alienating both the mainstream audience primed by the trailer for some kind of Fatal Attraction and the arthouse crowd who like their depressing stories of crumbling marriages with a minimum of sensationalism thrown in. Thanks in large part to a wholly believable and at times nearly heartbreaking performance by Moore, Chloe ultimately works and it should not be dismissed for its unwillingness to fit into a mold.

Moore’s character Catherine at first seems to be a woman who has everything. She has a successful gynecological practice, her husband is a professor, her teenaged son is a talented pianist and she lives in a beautiful home. Below this well-kept surface however, she’s a simmering mass of insecurity. She’s aging and no longer feels attractive, her son barely speaks to her and the romance in her marriage has withered to the point that it’s little more than a bitter memory. When her husband returns a day late from an out of town lecture and she finds an incriminating text message on his cell phone, it confirms her worst fears about her marriage and herself and it’s enough to touch off all the heightened drama that follows.

For most of the film, Moore keeps an uneasy lid on the turmoil inside of Catherine. When her plans become complicated and begin to unravel, the layers of her outer resolve are stripped away until all that’s left is her devastation and panic. Always a fearless actress, Moore sometimes overplays her dramatic moments, but here she plays it just right with a minimum of histrionics and affectation. You feel deeply for Catherine even as the decisions she makes become increasingly suspect. It’s one of Moore’s best performances and it’s sure to please fans while also converting a few skeptics. If the film is still remembered during the end of the year awards rush, she deserves to be recognized.

Meanwhile, matching Julianne Moore beat for beat – and this story really is a psychological tango between two lost souls – Amanda Seyfried shines as Chloe who is kind of two characters in one. At night she’s the sultry and self-possessed girl-for-hire and during the day she’s just a dopey, insecure 20-something in jeans and a sweatshirt. Seyfried shifts chameleon-like between the two personas with the confidence you’d expect from a more mature actress and the layers of depth she subtly reveals are key to earning and keeping the audience’s sympathy even when, like Catherine, her behavior turns questionable. Moving effortlessly between television (Big Love), indie drama (Nine Lives), bubbly mainstream hits (Mamma Mia!), horror-comedies (Jennifer’s Body) and fluffy romances (Dear John), Seyfried adds a new element to her repertoire with the dark-edged and risqué Chloe.

Excellent performances aside, the difficulty with Chloe is that on the surface it seems to be two different films which are each only partly successful. The satisfying emotional drama that develops is slathered with the more lurid makings of a soft-core thriller, the twists and turns of which are fairly predictable. Its tempting to dismiss it outright as a confused-though-entertaining genre mash up that can’t decide what it wants to be, but this is to miss the whole point. Chloe is in part about the dualities inside the two lead characters and also between them. The characters’ binary natures are echoed in the structure and tone of the narrative itself. It works better when you consider that the story is told almost completely from Catherine’s point of view. We see the events from her perspective and it makes perfect sense that as she red lines emotionally, the film would take on a more colorful cast.

The thriller elements also work better when seen from Catherine’s point of view. Though they may be obvious to us, the facts of the plot remain a mystery to her until it appears to be too late. It’s Hitchcock 101 to derive suspense from feeding the audience more information than the characters on screen possess. Taken from Catherine’s point of view, the big reveal is still a satisfyingly “oh shit” moment even if you suspect it for a long time coming.

In the end, if Chloe succeeds in getting you inside of Catherine’s head as it sets out to do, it works on all levels even while it remains difficult to categorize. Taken as a conventional (and borderline tacky) thriller, it entertains while slyly upending the sexist genre conventions that dictate women are either victims or victimizers. As a more conventional marital drama, it sensitively and emotionally explores the insecurities of an aging wife in a way most films never come close to. Either way, Chloe works, but it works best of all if you give it room to breathe and don’t try to constrain it with the expectations of the ordinary. Asking it to be one thing or the other is to ask for a lesser film.

Chloe. France / USA / Canada 2009 (US release 2010). Directed by Atom Egoyan. Screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson based on the film Nathalie…written by Jacques Fieschi, Anne Fontaine and Francois Olivier Rousseau from a story by Philippe Blasbland. Cinematography by Paul Sarossy. Music score composed by Mychael Danna. Edited by Susan Shipton. Starring Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson and Max Thierot. 1 hour 39 minutes. MPAA rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and language. 4 stars (out of 5)

22 Responses to “Review: Chloe (2010) ****”

  1. Oooh…now I’m interested! Great, titilating write-up. Sounds like a film that will provoke a lot of strong opinions and lively discussion. I want to like this film because I rather love all the people involved.

  2. Craig and I were talking about Chloe via e-mail recently, because I couldn’t post anything here that would be spoiler-free, so here’s my dissenting view:

    ***SPOILER ALERT***

    Craig gives Egoyan too much credit, I feel. The film should have been called The Call Girl, in order to join the ranks of titles like The Temp, The Babysitter, The Stepfather, etc. Because we never learn anything about Chloe’s life, either inner or outer, and because Seyfried is directed to do crazy eyes and crazy smile from the middle of the film, she ends up coming across as the psycho stalker chick straight out of one of those genre flicks. The whole time I was watching it, I kept thinking, “This is not going where I think it’s going…” But it did, and by the time it got there I felt cheated that Egoyan didn’t fully commit to the genre on the way.

    With this cast, it would have something else. As it was, it was somehow lukewarm and reminiscent of ’90s late night softcore porn on cable (like the Red Shoe Diaries), a fact reinforced by the Toronto location and the director’s (or cameraman’s) shoe fetish. I was always aware of the high heels worn by the two leading ladies, and when Chloe is doing the son in the parents’ bedroom, where does her gaze (“Look at me!” he says) land? On Mom’s fuck-me pumps in the closet.

    Thought Moore and Neeson were both strong and compelling, although his role was underwritten, and I didn’t totally buy their big fight scene (that their son walks in on). Seyfried is scary gorgeous, which I guess is appropriate, but I wish she had been allowed to be more than two and a half dimensional in this.

    For me: C range, 2.5 stars.

  3. Without knowing anything else I’d be intrigued by the presence of Egoyan and Moore. And your review has given me a basis, despite acknowledging its sometimes awkward genre mix, to think that both these formidable artists provide enough quality moments to make this a worthwhile experience. Though one I’ll probably only eventually access through rental DVD.

    Paul, I’ll return to read your spoiler alerted dissenting view after seeing the film.

  4. Jennybee and Sartre, I hope you liked it better than Paul here, though I have to admit I understand exactly where he’s coming from. He’s not wrong and I was thinking many of the same things as I was watching it, but after a few weeks of thinking about it, the negatives fell away.

    ***blanket spoiler alert****

    I think Chloe (the character) has a bit more depth than you’re giving her. The whys and the wherefores of her personality aren’t needed and probably would’ve been too much. I agree that the film would’ve been stronger if we accepted her veracity longer, but it works anyway. As I said above, the big reveal works great when you take it from Moore’s perspective.

    Yes, it still has all the trappings of a trashy thriller, but I think it’s ultimately a much smarter one.

  5. Craig, I’m sure it doesn’t help that this was more or less my introduction to Egoyan. Do you see in Chloe a significant thematic or stylistic connection to his earlier work that I wouldn’t have gotten?

  6. I’m not well-versed enough in his filmmography to make a sweeping generalization.

    I do think even his more flamboyant stuff has a sensitivity to it that sometimes gets buried in the more sensational aspects of his stories.

  7. haven’t read the wholeeee review because I don’t like being stoo spoiled xD but looking forward more to this one based on your rating and your intro.

    I’ve had a few people come up to me and give me negative feedback on the film, you are the first one with a positive one xD

  8. My personal favorites among Egoyan’s work are Speaking Parts, The Sweet Hereafter, and Exotica. I think he’s been quite an influential art house filmmaker.

  9. I’ve only seen The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica, both of which I thoroughly admired, particularly The Sweet Hereafter. It’s a film that’s really grown on me over the years, might even make my top 20 or so.

    I’m skipping Paul’s spoilery reaction until I’ve seen it, but I’ll be sure to come back and check it out when I can add my own opinion. Craig, you saw Egoyan’s other recent film, didn’t you? I don’t remember what you thought of it, though I know the critical reaction overall was lukewarm. Is this one better?

  10. J. Hoberman and Anthony Lane are less spoilery than me but more dismissive.

    But the word “soft-core” (as in porn) occurs in all three reactions…

  11. And that’s supposed to be a bad thing, Paul? ;)

    Just kidding. I haven’t even seen the thing yet. But that term does little to dissuade me.

  12. Craig, you and I have talked about CHLOE a few times before. I saw it at our film festival last fall.

    When I reviewed it, I gave it three stars.

    I went in thinking that there could be a particular kind of twist involved. After the first fifteen minutes, I was fairly sure. I turned out to be right. But that didn’t impair my enjoyment of it.

    It’s glamorous and deliciously lurid in equal measure. I genuinely liked it. But it doesn’t surprise me that some people haven’t bought into it. It definitely won’t be everybody’s much anticipated afternoon latte.

    It’s reasonably straigtht forward and accessible compared to Atom Egoyan’s other work.

    The only main point that we split on is Amanda. Granted, I’m not that familiar with her work – having only seen her in this and in MEAN GIRLS.

    I thought she was terrific in MG. But I didn’t find her believable in CHLOE. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of females give sensational performances portraying prostitutes or some type of fallen woman. A lot of them have been amazing. Even groundbreaking.

    Amanda looked incredible. But she never actually convinced me.

    Liam’s solid. Julianne is a revelation. I totally agree. It’s too damn early in the year. But her work is definitely award worthy.

    Anyway…

    Great review as always, Monsieur Crabcake. It’s good to get your take on things.

    Your opinion is always worthy of contemplation.

  13. Miranda, yes in the end I don’t think the assorted twists and turns of the plot and whether or not they’re obvious matter too much. Sometimes I think we get too caught up in such things.

    Liam was terrific, though he wasn’t given much to do.

    Paul, I’m fully prepared to go against the critics on this one. The mixed buzz already started at Toronto actually. This won’t have been the first time where I was right and respected critics totally missed the boat :)

    Amy, don’t get your hopes up TOO high. Sometimes I like weird things for weird reasons and this might be one of them. In this case, I don’t necessarily disagree with some of the negative arguments against the film, but I think the people who are letting those things get in the way just aren’t looking at it the right way.

  14. Craig, I think it all comes down to Amanda Seyfried’s Chloe, as Miranda and I both suggest, though perhaps for different reasons. I blame the directing and the writing. If the character had been more believable/fully fleshed, I might be a fan of the movie and its quirks.

  15. Fair enough, though I’d argue that it’s really Moore’s movie anyway. Chloe is important, but not as much.

  16. I really liked CHLOE. I probably wouldn’t be as generous in my rating, but it’s highly enjoyable. It’s a trashy soap opera, almost campy in a way. And that’s what I liked about it.

    Moore is fantastic. I think it’s her finest performance in a long time.

  17. Moore is what kept me with the film through the awkward stretches and kept me thinking about it afterward. She’s why I rate it so highly.

    It’s the kind of imperfect film you have to take a leap of faith with. All the ammo you need to dismiss it entirely is right there on the screen, but it’s also worth the benefit of deeper consideration I think and Moore is the main reason why. Obviously critics are divided with most of them taking a dump on it, but that’s fine.

  18. I just saw this on DVD and I’d agree with the positive reviews above. Yes, the plotting and the climax are weak and predictable, but watching this I got the impression that Egoyan and the actors weren’t really interested in the plot. I don’t think it’s fair to make a film where the feather-weight plotting is just an excuse to get at something else but both lead actresses are excellent, which redeemed it for me.

    What is wrong with some eroticism? Describing it as soft-core porn might be accurate, but I don’t think that’s really what the film is about at all. Just because it has some hot sex scenes shouldn’t make it less worthy of some praise. The sex scenes are critical to the film and the characters.

    Moore is great in this and she really holds her own against a much younger starlet, which is appropriate considering her character’s predicament.

  19. I haven’t fully resolved for myself whether it should’ve delivered more satisfyingly as a thriller or not. Like you, I think Egoyan and the screenwriter were up to bigger things, but if you’re going to package a movie as something, it seems fair to deliver that. I think it would’ve been a stronger film if it worked better as a character drama AND as a thriller.

  20. Finally got the chance to see this and absolutely loved it. I completely agree with you, Craig, that the actual twists don’t seem to matter as much, but it does a really good job of building tension and mood regardless of that. I was actually a lot bigger on Seyfried’s performance than I was Moore’s, but overall, it’s one of my favorites of the year. Found the technical aspects to be just great, loved the cinematography, the score, it was something that overall just really, really worked for me.

  21. You have no idea how nice it is to find someone else with some enthusiasm for this sadly abused and underrated film.

    It got brushed off as a poor man’s Fatal Attraction, but it was so much more than that in my book.

    Moore I think had the more interesting character, but I agree Seyfried did an excellent job.

    I wish Neeson had more to do, but it just wasn’t his movie.

  22. I loved it, too. The ending was a tad too facile or something, or perhaps too melodramatic, I don’t know. But every other part of it I loved silly.

    Fantastic acting. For me, Juliane Moore was the best she’s ever been.

    I still heart Egoyan.

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