Sometimes a story needs to just let its characters go where the situation takes them. A situation isn't always conducive to storytelling (telling a story vs. a situation), but in the case of Chloe it's the way to go. The situation here is this: a doctor (Julianne Moore) is suspicious, perhaps even certain in some way, that her husband, an opera teacher (Liam Neeson) is cheating on her. As a way to find out, or just out of curiosity as to what he'll do, he approaches a call-girl (Amanda Seyfried) who has a knack for fulfilling any client's desire. When Chloe asks this woman about her husband being the client, she says he isn't. Her job will be to approach him, simply, in a cafe and see what he does. But according to Chloe, an innocent conversation (him being "friendly" as he is with a lot of women) turns into something else entirely... or is it?
This situation unfolds in a manner that is less about the conventional 'what will happen to their marriage' than what will happen to Moore's character, and Seyfried's Chloe, in relation to one another. It's one thing to have a character having sex with one spouse, but then having it with the other is something else. But that's not even what Atom Egoyan, the director, is fully interested in (although the sex scenes, when they do come up, usually from Moore's gynecologist imagining what her husband has been doing - and then herself actually with Chloe, are the most seriously erotically charged ones seen in a while). His concern, as a storyteller with this 'situation' is what is in the mind, what perception does to a married couple over time.
Catherine can imagine David doing these things, and we as the audience accept this as what really happened because Chloe, as the in-charge girl of the fantasy, makes it so. What do we perceive as who's wrong or right here, or is there even that issue? Eventually the movie Chloe turns into an obsession kind of story, where Chloe becomes enraptured with Catherine and their tryst together. A third-act revelation (I hesitate to call it a twist) makes things a lot more clearer, but does it matter if one sees it coming (I didn't, but I can see how suspicions can be had right from the beginning). It's Egoyan's way of seeing these people in these situations, how serious everything is taken but how it doesn't become too trashy; only the music by Mychael Danna sees to make it more of a sleek erotic drama when it doesn't need it (the best music cue has nothing to do with him, but rather the cutaway from one crucial scene to the next where Catherine/David's son is playing a perfectly somber piece of piano at a recital).
One part of it is the camera, sliding along and pairing up the imagery in certain scenes (watch as Catherine is excited in the shower of the image of David in the botanical garden, their juxtaposition is interesting). But another crucial thing is the performances. Moore and Neeson deliver the goods, and we hope they always do (Neeson especially has a very hard part, despite the supporting role as the husband, since he has to reveal what is necessary for Catherine to perceive, not so much what is fully realistic), and the actor playing the son fares less well, though that may be due to him being underwritten (or just not well written enough). But it's Seyfried who comes away here the real winner; she's naturally sexy and appealing, and can convey Chloe's ability to play Catherine so well because it's what she does. She's younger but wiser when it comes to intimacy and the power of suggestion, and the details in her descriptions, in the writing and the acting, is totally solid. We've seen Seyfried try, and sometimes succeed, more or less with material (i.e. Mean Girls and Jennifer's Body), and here is where she really, fully gets to shine in a three-dimensional character.
We know the players and we know how it might turn out, but you can't be sure. Egoyan eschews a Fatal Attraction third act turn for something a little more dangerous and exciting. I wasn't sure if Chloe was nuts, or just got off on her own superior way of playing this family of bourgeois Toronto-ites. It's about knowing what we know, and what we choose to do with that information as a sexual partner, a lover, a person, a friend, whatever, and that intimate fantasy element. It comes close to trash, but it really isn't. Taking its flaws aside, it's one of the smartest adult (though not pornographic) thrillers in recent memory.
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Sexual suspicion and game-playing spiral down from the exotically intriguing to outright silliness in “Chloe.” Director Atom Egoyan, who earlier in his career explored wayward sexuality with an insinuating exactitude, holds viewer interest for a while in this tale of marital stress, but then allows the plot to spin way over the top and, literally, out the window. Appealing cast and the whiff of the naughty will stir mild B.O. action.
Pic is based on Anne Fontaine’s 2003 French film “Nathalie,” in which Fanny Ardant and Gerard Depardieu starred as a couple whose marriage is pushed to the edge when the wife, suspicious her hubby is cheating, hires a prostitute (Emmanuelle Beart) to meet him and report back about what happened.
Same set-up applies here in the adaptation by Erin Cressida Wilson (“Secretary,” “Fur”), with Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson playing Catherine and David Stewart, who live a posh life in Toronto’s upscale Yorkville district. Based on slim evidence that David, a music professor quite popular with his female students, might be fooling around, Catherine encounters a pretty girl-about-town, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), and pays her to learn whether or not her man is as susceptible as she believes to other women.
Chloe, it turns out, is a real pro, so good at what she does that Catherine quizzes her as to details, and for a while the audience can share her voyeuristic interest in learning some of her trade secrets. Before long, Chloe is explicitly describing heated encounters with David, and Catherine starts getting rather hot and bothered herself.
Simply stated, when Catherine starts losing control, so does the film. The sexual deceptions, experiments, lies and revelations from this point on are polymorphously perverse, as they used to say, but decreasingly credible, leading to a denouement both ludicrous from a dramatic p.o.v. and far too punitive morally for the most transgressive of the central figures. For whatever investment a viewer has left in the story by the climax, the finale blows it all to bits.
Along the way, Egoyan and lenser Paul Sarossy provide a sleek tour of relentlessly chic restaurants and hotels (at the Toronto Fest unspooling, the audience was getting a good laugh from the eminently recognizable locations, all seemingly within about a two-block radius of the venue in question), as well as the lead couple’s Architectural Digest-worthy house. More laughs stem from the fact that Catherine and David’s teenage son Michael (Max Thieriot) always happens to be around the house whenever something sexually convulsive is either happening or being discussed.
Thesps give it a truly earnest effort in a losing cause, and Moore and Seyfried both strip down repeatedly in the call of duty. Pic has the production polish of an expensive European import straight off the showroom floor.
France - Canada
Production: A StudioCanal presentation of a Montecito Picture Co. presentation. (International sales: StudioCanal, Paris.) Produced by Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck, Jeffrey Clifford. Executive producers, Jason Reitman, Daniel Dubiecki, Thomas P. Pollock, Ronald Halpern, Olivier Courson. Co-producers, Simone Urdl, Jennifer Weiss. Directed by Atom Egoyan. Screenplay, Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the motion picture "Nathalie," directed by Anne Fontaine, screenplay by Philippe Blasbland, Fontaine, Jacques Fieschi, Francois-Olivier Rousseau.
Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Paul Sarossy; editor, Susan Smith; music, Mychael Danna; production designer, Phillip Barker; art director, Kim M. McQuister; costume designer, Debra Hanson; sound (Dolby Digital), Bissa Scekic; sound designer, Steven Munro; second unit camera, J.P. Locherer; casting, Joanna Colbert, Richard Mento (U.S.), John Buchan, Jason Knight (Canada). Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations), Sept. 14, 2009. Running time: 96 MIN.
Cast: Catherine Stewart - Julianne Moore David Stewart - Liam Neeson Chloe - Amanda Seyfried Michael Stewart - Max Thieriot Frank - R.H. Thomson Anna - Nina Dobrev
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