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)
Filed under: Review
Tags: Amanda Seyfried, Anne Fontaine, Atom Egoyan, Erin Cressida Wilson, Francois Olivier Rousseau, Jacques Fieschi, Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Max Thierot, Mychael Danna, Paul Sarossy, Philippe Blasbland, Susan Shipton