Living in a post-Austin Powers world unfortunately means the name Chloe evokes images of a web-footed, French child prostitute with evil progeny. Not so with Atom Egoyan’s thriller Chloe. The Canadian director’s most recent film offering, last spotted at the Toronto Film Festival in fall of 2009, is now in wide release. Touted as an erotic thriller, the film has raised a few eyebrows on account of the leads baring their souls and bodies repeatedly and exhaustively. The film is also famed as an all too rare Canadian film business success. Made with French money and filmed in Canada the 15 million dollar film has already earned its budget back in distribution deals.
Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) is a gynaecologist, wife, and mother who begins to suspect her brilliant professor husband David (Liam Neeson) of cheating with his students. He is often aloof, absent, and secretive, moreover his permissiveness with his precocious son’s sexual behaviour unnerves Catherine. For a gynaecologist Catherine proves to be a bit of a prude, albeit a pragmatic one, at one point explaining to an anxious patient that an orgasm is “nothing magical, simply a series of muscle contractions”. When David is MIA during a surprise birthday party it is the final straw and a marital blow-up seems certain.
One day a chance encounter with Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a high class call-girl, leads to an unlikely bond betwixt the two women and an unorthodox proposal. Catherine pays Chloe to act as bait for David to see if he will stray. Apparently, Catherine is unfamiliar with the more common practice of hiring a private investigator and prefers perverse sexual entrapment. The result is as unlikely as it is unseemly with Catherine rediscovering her sexual self by way of Chloe’s dispatches that are as clinically detached and detailed as Catherine’s bedside manner.
The plot is fairly straight forward and only later after some twists and turns does the story begin to fall apart en route to a ridiculous climax that is only matched in silliness by the denouement. Julianne Moore, never an actor with gravitas, tries to alternately cry and stare her way through a film that relies too much on sex and not enough on acting. Watching Julianne Moore’s character masturbate is akin to a sea lion trying to tune a radio. Amanda Seyfried is a believable sex-pot but the film does not give her much more to work with other than her nubile body. When the film tries to get scary it fails miserably with scenes that are too silly and frequent to enumerate.
Unfortunately, during the filming Liam Neeson’s wife Natasha Richardson had a fall on a ski hill that turned fatal. To Neeson’s credit he finished the film immediately after her funeral and although his performance is not memorable he plays no culpable part in the film’s failure. Neeson deserves better than this part and it is a credit to his work ethic that the film was completed.
Chloe is a remake of Nathalie, a forgettable 2004 French language feature with an only slightly better title. Egoyan sets his film in Toronto, the screenplay announcing this fact self-importantly a dozen times, and although the film’s location manager has done a laudable job of finding some great locales the effect feel forced. Only a Torontonian would find the wet, grey, exteriors framed around boring architecture of any interest. A glass mansion is host to most of the scenes and although highly cinematic it seems preposterous and decorated by someone who thought that an academic would have flea market pulp books on his bookshelves.
Worse are the glaring continuity gaffs that include a conversation by a coffee house window where a blizzard of snow appears and disappears with each change of shot. Egoyan’s cinematographer Paul Sarossy who wowed us with the Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, and Felicia’s Journey needs a new tripod and camera assistant with clumsy, out of focus shots, that often bounce in and out of frame. The edit is a mess and the jig-saw final cut is either a result of not enough footage properly shot or incompetence.
Chloe is a rare miss by Egoyan, a director that has not only been up and until now a consistent auteur but a groundbreaker as well. Better talent, a good script, and less Toronto are needed for the Oscar nominated director with the forgivable misstep. Day players can make or break a film and shoddy camera work can’t be edited away. Egoyan needs to clean up his production team and get a better project and remember that although eroticism is thrilling by definition not all thrillers are erotic.