If there is one thing that brings audiences in droves, that puts people firmly in theater seats, that piques the interests of millions of viewers, it isn’t usually the marital difficulties of upper class, middle age Canadians. Therefore Atom Egoyan’s new film, Chloe has a limited scope in terms of patronage from the outset. If you toss in a high profile, internationally recognized cast of Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, and Amanda Seyfried you are getting somewhere. If you toss them into graphic sex scenes you could be doing a little bit better. This seemed to be the business model for the Canadian veteran’s new film, which wants to be respected for its terrific performances, but ultimately will be remembered as the film that “The girl from Mama Mia got naked in.”
Some of the blame for that can be laid at the feet of the perpetually immature, sensationalistic nature of our society where such a thing would over-shadow the acting and storytelling. In just hours after preview screenings of Chloe images taken with cell phone cameras had been leaked online, not to mention the buzz that came from the international Red Band trailer that featured lesbian sexuality and Seyfried baring almost all. Though if it were a better film then I’m sure the quality would speak louder than the hype.
Based on the French film Nathalie, Chloe centers around Catherine (Moore), an affluent gynecologist in Toronto, who suspects her husband, David (Neeson), of infidelity. In a gender reversing twist on The Story of the Ill-Advised Curiosity from Cervantes’s ‘Don Quixote’ Catherine hires Chloe, a high priced “escort,” to see how far her husband will take a flirtation with a college age courtesan, the likes of which he is surrounded by daily in his job as a dedicated professor.
Initially the endeavor seems to go as planned except for the fact that Chloe tells Catherine that she has succeeded in seducing David. As Catherine’s thirst for the truth about David grows so does her interest in Chloe, the person that she believes her husband now finds attractive instead of herself. As Chloe’s encounters grow more and more illicit, the apparent bond between Catherine and her grows more intimate.
The psychological games, the half-truths, and all out lies that fill the first half of the script keep the film moving at a good pace, but when the truth starts to unravel so does the movie. Written by Erin Cressida Wilson, who penned previous erotic, female driven indies Secretary and Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, the script takes a left turn around the midpoint, ceasing to be about Catherine and her marriage, and starts focusing on the titular character and her burgeoning obsession with her client.
Toward the ridiculous ending the film starts going off into the stratosphere of the unbelievable, and the major flaw is that the filmmakers never give a real motivation for any of Chloe’s fairly extreme actions. Never, from beginning to end, is it clear why she is driven to insinuate herself into Catherine’s life, and as such her actions in the third act are just inventions of the screenwriter desperate to make a point, and not actions that any real person would actually do.
Some of that blame has to fall on Egoyan, however, because after all is said and done a screenplay is little more than a prospectus for the final film. As the director it falls upon him to provide the nuggets of storytelling that are noticeably absent from Chloe. His work with the actors and the look of the film in collaboration with his usual crew of Director of Photography Paul Sarossy and Production Designer Phillip Baker are all exceptional, but there is just something missing.
However what keeps Chloe from disintegrating into the Skinamax realm are the amazing performances from the three leads. Watching Julianne Moore inexpertly navigate the pitfalls of Catherine’s marriage is like attending a master class in acting. During her time on screen with Amanda Seyfried it is obvious who is the veteran and who is the novice, but the younger actress holds her own, fighting against the deficiencies of the script. Liam Neeson does a lot with the little screen time he is given, and the portrayal of marriage that he and Moore put on screen is enough to make any young bride or groom-to-be think twice about the monumental undertaking on which they are about to embark.
But in the end the acting, photography, and set design are not enough to save Chloe from itself. And no matter what the film makers might be saying in terms of the nudity they can’t be diluted enough to think that it won’t have an impact on their ticket sales. Yes, the sex scene is graphic, but not gratuitous; it is dramatically necessary to the film, but the various other shots of Seyfried naked are debatable. Just because the film was written by a woman doesn’t mean that it is empowering and not exploitative. And just because there is star-studded nudity in the movie it doesn’t mean it isn’t still a little boring.
El Luchador Rating: 2 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)