Chloe: Trashy Film from Atom Egoyan, Starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore

What has happened to the gifted director Atom Egoyan, who gave us such terrific films in the 1990s as “Exotica” and “The Sweet Hereafter (arguably his masterwork)?” It seems that he can’t find a suitable subject matter to which to apply his considerable talent, sharp intelligence and cinematic sensitivity. Egoyan has not made a really good movie in over a decade, and most of the output during that time was both artistically and commercially disappointing.
 
Egoyan’s latest, “Chloe” is not a bad movie, but it suffers from identity crisis. The film is unable to decide what kind of approach to take to its central issues, the nature of intimacy and trust, in this case, as they pertain to an upper-middle class family, themes that recur in most of Egoyan’s films.
 
Walking a fine line between a serious art film and a trashy sexual thriller, “Chloe” begins well but then gets progressively worse and utterly predictable and sleazy as it goes along. Indeed, the last reel is so silly and manipulative that it brings to mind mainstream Hollywood psycho-thrillers, such as “Fatal Attraction,” though that 1987 smash hit is a much better picture than “Chloe” on any level.
 
In the first (and best) reel, we are introduced to David (Liam Neeson), a music professor ending a lecture and about to fly back to New York. Cut to Toronto, where his wife Catherine (the estimable Julianne Moore) throws a surprise birthday party, which she has secretly planned for him.
 
One of David’s female students, Miranda, follows him, and the next thing we know, he misses his flight home from New York. Informed on the telephone of his inability to attend, Catherine is forced to swallow her disappointment and disregard any suspicions and return to her guests, who are just as shocked as she is.
 
Next morning, Catherine inadvertently reads a text message sent to David’s phone from his student Miranda, and begins to worry that something is wrong with their marriage. Catherine’s fear grows, when David his vague about the reason for not making his flight.
 
Representing a successful, presumably happy couple, Catherine is an accomplished doctor, and David a popular and flirtatious professor of music. The duo have a 17-year-old son, Michael (Max Thieriot), who’s just beginning to discover his own sexuality, entertaining at home a girlfriend—much to the resentment of his mom, though with the knowledge (and approval) of his dad.
 
To an outsider, David and Catherine have everything. But their careers and raising a child have put strains on the marriage, which has become sexually barren; their relationship suffers from loss of meaningful communication and genuine intimacy.
 
Two weeks after the surprise party, Catherine and David are at dinner with friends, when Catherine excuses herself to use the restroom. There she meets an alluring young woman, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), who, surprisingly connects with Catherine. Returning to the table, she spots Chloe, working as an escort (read hooker). Catherine watches with interest as Chloe approaches an older businessman.
 
On the drive home Catherine finally asks David if he intentionally missed his flight from New York to stay for drinks. When he claims that he did not, she knows she has caught him in a lie. Growing more suspicious and insecure than ever before, Catherine is convinced that David is having an affair. As a result, Catherine seeks out Chloe as an escort, hiring her to test David’s fidelity. Meeting regularly, Catherine absorbs the explicit details Chloe shares of her encounters with David, how she met with him in public, felt his hard on, went down on him; some of these sexual acts are shown or hinted at in brief, vague flashbacks.
 
These tales upset Catherine, igniting her jealousy, but they also awakened in her long-dormant sensations. One thing leads to another, and the two women go to bed in a hotel. Increasingly caught in a web of sexual desire, Catherine finds herself on a personal journey that places her entire family in great danger, including son Michael who upon meeting Chloe at his mom’s clinic becomes enamored of her.
 
From that point, the movie goes rapidly downhill, and the narrative spins out of control—literally and figuratively. We know that it’s only a matter of time before Michael and Chloe will have sex in their parents’ bed–and will be cuaght. More importantly, we also expect David and Catherine confront each other directly and angrily. 
The very last sequence, involving accidental death and a series of reconciliations is embarrassingly manipulative and seems to belong to another, exploitative B-grade flick. 

It’s noteworthy that “Chloe” is a loose remake of the far superior French film “Nathalie,” and it’s the first film that Egoyan did not write. The sharply uneven scenario is penned by Erin Cressida Wilson, who also wrote the ironically entertaining erotic fable “Secretary,” with James Spader Maggie Gyllenhaal, and the poor biopic feature, “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus,” starring Nicole Kidman, who was vastly miscast.

Is Atom Egoyan showing symptoms of the “dirty old man,” as Kubrick did when he stripped Nicole Kidman and caressed her body with his camera in “Eyes Wide Shut?”  Perhaps.  I have nothing against nudity, female or male, au contraire!  But in “Chloe,” Amanda Seyfried exposes her beautiful breasts in the first scene and proceeds to do so at least five or six time in the course of the film.

Reviewed March 10, 2010.

 
Cast
 
Catherine Stewart JULIANNE MOORE
David Stewart LIAM NEESON
Chloe AMANDA SEYFRIED
Michael Stewart MAX THIERIOT
Frank R.H. THOMSON
Anna NINA DOBREV
Receptionist MISHU VELLANI
Bimsy JULIE KHANER
Alicia LAURA DE CARTERET
Eliza NATALIE LISINSKA
Trina TIFFANY KNIGHT
Miranda MEGHAN HEFFERN
Party Guest ARLENE DUNCAN
Another Girl KATHY MALONEY
Maria ROSALBA MARTINNI
Waitress TAMSEN McDONOUGH
Waitress 2 KATHRYN KRIITMAA
Bartender ADAM WAXMAN
Young Co-Ed KRYSTA CARTER
Nurse SEVERN THOMPSON
 
Crew
 
Director ATOM EGOYAN
Writer ERIN CRESSIDA WILSON
Produced by IVAN REITMAN
Producers JOE MEDJUCK
JEFFREY CLIFFORD
Co-Producers SIMONE URDL, JENNIFER WEISS
Executive Producers JASON REITMAN, DANIEL DUBIECKI, THOMAS P. POLLOCK, RON HALPERN
*Associate Producers ALI BELL, ERIN CRESSIDA WILSON
Production Manager STEPHEN TRAYNOR
Director of Photography PAUL SAROSSY
Production Designer PHILLIP BARKER
Editor SUSAN SHIPTON
Music MYCHAEL DANNA
Costumes DEBRA HANSON
Casting JOANNA COLBERT (US)
RICHARD MENTO (US)
JOHN BUCHAN (Canada)
JASON KNIGHT (Canada)
First Assistant Director DANIEL J. MURPHY
Sound Recordist BISSA SCEKIC
Key Hair ETHELINE JOSEPH
Key Make-Up SUZANNE BENOIT
Hair Stylist: Julianne Moore ZINKA SHANKLAND
Hair Stylist: Amanda Seyfried RYAN REED
Make-Up: Julianne Moore SUSAN REILLY LAHANE
Make-Up: Amanda Seyfried DIANE MAZUR
Script Supervisor JILL CARTER
Property Master CRAIG GRANT
Gaffer BOB DAVIDSON
Key Grip CHRIS FAULKNER
Location Manager EARDLEY WILMOT