Status: In limited release (opened 3/26/10)
Directed By: Atom Egoyan
Written By: Erin Cressida Wilson
Cinematographer: Paul Sarossy
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Max Thieriot
Catherine (Julianne Moore) is in a tough spot in life. Although her professional life is going well—she’s a successful, well-to-do doctor—her family seems to be falling apart. She’s fed up with seeing her husband David (Liam Neeson) flirt with every female he encounters on a daily basis, and she’s convinced he must be cheating on her. She finds a somewhat ambiguous message from one of his students, which she takes as evidence that he must be having an affair. On top of this, her son (Max Thieriot) isn’t speaking to her; he has a girlfriend (Nina Dobrev) who Catherine wasn’t even aware of, much less the fact that she regularly spends the night in their house.
Desperate to gain some insight into what’s happening with her family, Catherine concocts a plan to catch her husband in the act. She bumps into a neighborhood prostitute (Amanda Seyfried) in the restroom one day, and arranges to meet her. The deal goes like this: Chloe (the hooker) will put herself within David’s proximity to see if he approaches her, and will report back to Catherine on what transpires.
And that’s about all I feel I should say about what happens in Chloe. Things get complicated, and don’t go as Catherine had planned, to say the least. The screenplay is by Erin Cressida Wilson, who also wrote Secretary, another film that dealt with similar issues of ambiguous boundaries. Does Catherine really want Chloe to sleep with her husband? Is it so that she can catch him in the act, or so that she can understand what he’s into, in order to reinvigorate her own sex life? What’s Chloe’s agenda in this? And is David, the husband, about to be caught in his lies, or is he just an innocent pawn in his wife’s jealousy game?
A lot of drama comes from this, and it’s built slowly and carefully by the director, Atom Egoyan. He takes his time establishing the competing perspectives in the story, and derives a lot of subtle drama along the way. Egoyan shoots the film with a dreamlike quality to it, his camera floating around the city of Toronto and into the bedrooms of his characters. The feel of Chloe reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, both in terms of its subject matter—jealousy, marital deceit—and its tone—enigmatic and open-ended in the numerous questions it poses. There aren’t questions of what is real and what isn’t, though, but rather of how to perceive the reality being presented. We’re unsure of Catherine’s motivations, unclear about what her husband is up to, and above all unaware of exactly where Chloe’s motivation comes from, or what her objectives are, beyond getting paid to do Catherine’s bidding.
These questions are all eventually answered, of course, to one extent or another, and most of those answers are surprising. The process of arriving at them is the central story of Chloe, and it’s an intriguing journey to go on. The movie is based on/inspired by/a remake of the 2004 French film Nathalie…, which I haven’t seen, but it’s hard to imagine that it could be as downright sexy as Chloe. Egoyan has a knack for titillating his audience, piquing our curiosity before finally satiating it, both story-wise and visually. There’s a lot of Amanda Seyfried side-boob on display, not to mention multiple sex scenes that are downright erotic. The film has a voyeuristic quality to it that appropriately plays on its themes and moods. It’s a very slow build, but when things finally come to a head they do so rapidly. It’s helped along by an exceptionally strong cast, particularly the three leads, who keep you guessing throughout. There’s perhaps one surprise too many, and as is often the case the final one is the hardest to swallow, but by that point in the film we’re happy to get some concrete answers no matter how they come.