Eugene Weekly : Movies : 3.25.10


Truth and Consequences
Atom Egoyan stumbles with Chloe
by Molly Templeton

CHLOE: Directed by Atom Egoyan. Written by Erin Cressida Wilson. Producer, Ivan Reitman. Cinematography, Paul Sarossy. Editor, Susan Shipton. Music, Mychael Danna. Starring Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson and Max Thieriot. Sony Pictures Classics, 2010. R. 96 minutes.

Oddly, the production notes for Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter)’s latest film make no mention of the fact that the movie is an adapatation of Nathalie, a French film starring the appealing duo of Fanny Ardant and Emmanuelle Béart. That 2004 film, directed by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel) and written by Fontaine and three others, had a tagline (according to that asked, “Can you ever control another person’s sexuality?”

Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore in Chloe

In contrast, Egoyan’s Toronto-set, movie-star dotted version asks a plainer question: “If the one you love was lying to you, how far would you go to find the truth?”

I don’t mean to suggest that a tagline makes a movie, or that either of these are particularly clever mini-summaries. But the perspective offered — the thing some marketer feels will sell us on the film — is telling. Let’s make it about guilt, not sex! 

Like Egoyan’s last film, Adoration, Chloe is in part concerned with the way a story can affect a life. But this pretty, glossy film has more in common with a number of early-’90s thrillers, most of which I’m reluctant to name as you might consider the comparison a spoiler, and most of which were equally forgettable. The small saving grace of Chloe is Julianne Moore, who sinks into the thankless role of Catherine, a doctor whose carefully presented exterior doesn’t reflect the churning insecurity she feels about her family. Her petulant son, Michael (Max Thieriot), slams his door in her face and her educator husband, David (Liam Neeson), can’t even make it home on time for his birthday. David is a flirt who justifies his demeanor with wait staff by claiming he’s just trying to make up for all the jerks who treat them poorly. Privilege seeps from these people, spilling from their glass jewelry box of a house. As certain kinds of movies will never tire of telling us, beautiful rich people have problems too.

Chloe takes its name from the high-class escort Catherine hires to test David. If she sends this young, lush-lipped, wide-eyed woman (Amanda Seyfried) into his path, will he keep moving or be diverted? What Chloe reports to Catherine is that David caves easily. What Catherine takes from these conversations is something else entirely, and it’s in these uncomfortable moments that Chloe temporarily transcends its standard-issue sexual-thriller core, rising to consider the power Catherine wields in directing David’s sexual experience. Catherine is high on it. 

Her response is presented somewhat absurdly on film — oh, to never again see a damp hand pressed against fogged glass in a moment of passion! — but at times, Moore’s shifting face contains all the contradictions and frustrations the situation brings. What she will give into, and what it will bring her, veers right back into cliché, and Chloe’s final scenes are so ridiculous I wanted to find a way to see them as Egoyan commenting on the absurdity, turning it into something new. I’m still looking, but I’m doubtful there’s much to find.

Chloe opens Friday, March 26, at the Bijou.