Rating: 3 stars out of 5
With film-makers of Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan’s status (The Sweet Hereafter), you want to give a certain benefit of the doubt.
However, having enjoyed his highly cerebral earlier works that often touch on isolation and alienation, such as the under-rated Felicia's Journey, The Adjuster, and the engrossing Ararat, one can't help feeling that Chloe is a missed opportunity like his 2005 thriller Where the Truth Lies.
Both films are ostensibly erotic thrillers. The earlier film was a whodunnit mystery with a cover-up and dark secret that the young reporter protagonist is intent on discovering. In this film, the secrets revolve around the activities of an apparently cheating husband.
Based on the 2004 French film Nathalie..., the story has a successful middle-aged gynaecologist Catherine (Julianne Moore) gripped with paranoia after spying a suggestive message on her husband's mobile phone.
As the passions have cooled in her marriage, and age caught up with her, she becomes convinced that her handsome husband David (Liam Neeson) is having an affair, possibly with one of the young woman he teaches in college.
Through a chance meeting with a mysterious girl named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), whom she observes correctly to be a woman-for-hire, Catherine decides to make a bold move. Despite her husband's protestations of innocence, she hires the gorgeous Chloe to seduce him and report back his actions.
Clearly, if it were evidence of adultery she wanted, such that she would be able to file for divorce, she would have hired a private investigator, or asked Chloe to take pictures.
Instead, what follows are continued clandestine meetings with Chloe, during which Catherine listens inscrutably to voyeuristic accounts – voyeurism being another of Egoyan's hallmarks – and leaves audiences wondering if she is enraged or, as Chloe enquires later, if she is somehow turned on (perhaps in a Sex, Lies and Videotape way).
The interactions between Seyfried and Moore, which escalate to more mature moments, don't titillate – were they supposed to, one wonders. In an early scene, Catherine tells a patient that the female orgasm is nothing mysterious, and no big deal: it's just a series of muscle contractions, she says.
That clinical pronouncement foreshadows how the sex and sensuality portrayed in the film comes off as somewhat cold and alien. There is a further element of the association between sex and danger as Chloe starts to exhibit obsessive qualities, and threatens everything in Catherine's life.
Chloe contains more than a few interesting ideas: that of an ageing couple learning to adapt to changes in self-image and sensuality – Catherine laments to David in a telling scene about how he's getting better-looking with age – jealousy and envy of youth, obsession and love, and suspicions that grow as imaginations run wild.
The dynamic of Catherine and Chloe is intriguing as well, as through their strange, secret arrangement, Catherine seeks – in an unwittingly twisted way – to get closer to her husband, while Chloe seeks approval and perhaps love from Catherine.
It's all rather clever, but alas none too satisfying. Even though Neeson puts on a fine, rather darkly comic turn, and Moore is reliable as usual in a complex role, the typically appealing Seyfried (Mamma Mia), shedding her wholesome image, is the weak link here.
While physically attractive, she just doesn't possess the kind of wild, edgy sensuality needed for the role. And the plot, scripted by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary, Fur), somehow keeps the audience at bay and never really allows one to immerse into the story or feel involved.
If it's isolation and alienation that Egoyan wishes to explore, that's all fine and good. But when the audience is subject to those feelings, then the film-viewing experience leaves a lot to be desired.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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