A film review by Craig J. Koban December 3, 2010


2010, R, 96 mins.


Catherine: Julianne Moore / David: Liam Neeson / Chloe: Amanda Seyfried / Michael: Max Thieriot / Frank: R.H. Thomson / Anna: Nina Dobrev

Directed by Atom Egoyan / Written by Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the film "Nathalie," directed by Anne Fontaine.

CHLOE, as far as erotic melodramas go, both turned me on and really turned me off, the latter being a most unwanted side effect for this type of genre.  

Directed by acclaimed Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan (THE SWEET HEREAFTER, EROTICA) - a director that has made a strong career of exploring themes of alienation, loneliness, longing, and forbidden sexual desires -  CHLOE has the outward appearance of a luxuriously shot and brilliantly acted exploration into sexual frustration, marital infidelity, and spousal paranoia, but it does not take long for it to come across as just a solemn minded indie that’s too silly and pretentious to be taken seriously.  More or less, CHLOE does not outrank many of disposable direct-to-video sex thrillers; it’s both a smart and dumb art house effort.   

Egoyan’s film – a remake of the 2004 French film NATHALIE – shows the director’s penchant for fine casting…partially at least.  Julianne Moore, one of our finest and most assured actresses, gives a layered and intensely fidgety performance as a woman that seems constantly plagued by the potential unfaithfulness of her husband, and few performers outside of her could tap into this role’s sense of inner pathos and fretfulness like Moore does here.  

Unfortunately, Egoyan completely drops the ball with the casting of the fresh-faced, sunny dispositioned, and perky Amanda Seyfried in the lurid and sultry role of a high paid prostitute with duplicitous motives and a fractured soul.  I have raved over the young actress before (she was the most euphoric aspect of MAMMA MIA! and helped anchor the tongue-in cheek sensationalism of JENNIFER’S BODY), but she is so horribly wrong for this role in so many ways that I began to lose count.  Her effervescent girl-next-door adorability makes her a horrible fit to bring credibility to playing a whore with an introverted edge.  I love the actress to death, but I simply never bought her in the title role. 

CHLOE begins on some promising ground as it explores intriguing themes of deception and mistrust:  Moore plays Catherine, an affluent Torontonian gynecologist that has a family that seems to teeter on the brink of collapse.  Her son (Max Thieriot) treats her more as a nuisance and plague on his life than an important maternal figure, and her husband, David (Liam Neeson, perhaps the only actor that can seamlessly and effectively morph into period, dramatic, and action roles) is a well established and liked college professor that seems to flirt with his much younger female students – and just about any other young woman within striking distance, for that matter – more than she would like.  Cruising towards 50 and with an alienated son and a husband she finds herself growing detached from, Catherine begins to feel at her wits end. 

Her extreme paranoia kicks into overdrive during one evening when David fails to take a flight that would get him home into time for a surprise Birthday party that she labored over to plan and implement.  She really gets suspicious when she later finds a kinky text message on his phone that hints at – without absolutely proving – that David may have missed the party because of a late night rendezvous with a student.  Tired of David’s promiscuous ways and fearing that he has cheated, Catherine hatches a diabolical plan to find the concrete proof she desperately requires of his lack of devotion towards her.  She decides to hire a locale call girl named Chloe (Seyfried) to find ways to enter David’s life by trying to seduce him and then report back to her on all of his reactions to her advances.   

At first, Catherine and Chloe’s relationship is all business, but even after their first meeting and Chloe’s first report back to her about her initial run-in with David, there is an ethereal sexual attraction between the women that only seems to grow when Catherine asks Chloe to meet with David again and again to elicit more of a response from him.  The more explicit Chloe’s reports become, the more it seems to turn Catherine on, and thusly the more she demands that Chloe continue to meet with David and provide even more juicily trashy details.  Yet, all of the damning evidence that Chloe reveals to her client can’t stop Catherine’s unmistakable attraction to her, which boils over in the film’s most notorious scene where the two give in to their carnal hunger for one another. 

Egoyan has never been a filmmaker that has shied away from displaying frank and oftentimes uncomfortably raw portrayals of eroticism, and CHLOE is no exception.  Here’s an R-rated film that deals with human sexuality on an adult level and never feels the need to sanitize it for adult ears and eyes.  Characters reveal intimate thoughts and desires in forthright ways and the climatic girl-on-girl sex scene between Seyfried and Moore – the latter being old enough to be Seyfried's own mother – is equal parts steamy and scandalous at the same time.  Like previous efforts, Egoyan tests the boundaries of conventional sex talk and scenes in CHLOE, which gives it more of a seditious vibe than it would have under another director.   

Yet, for as red hot as the two female stars are during that brief scene and the seriousness it treats its subject matter and themes, CHLOE subverts into shallow-minded and overwrought cheesiness the more it progresses.  What begins as a film that hints at the possibility of being shrewdly introspective and crafty with its character dynamics and relationships devolves into something that could be aptly described as a lesbian-laced FATAL ATTRACTION.  The film stumbles towards a conclusion that features a twist in the David/Chloe relationship that only would be missed if viewers were half asleep during what preceded it.  To make the film’s final act even more mechanically executed, we are offered a downright loopy and head-smacking finale that seems like it's from a whole other B-grade exploitation skin-thriller altogether.  This has the negative effect of overriding some of the film’s more complimentary aspects that came before.  Few films begin as smartly and end as idiotically as this one. 

The casting of Seyfried, as mentioned, does not help, but neither does the screenplay.  I mean, who is this young woman and what are her motives?  Is she a lonely, troubled and sad girl or is she a shrewd businesswoman all about "the deal” or is she a dangerously unstable serial stalker and sociopath?  The film can’t seem to decide, which makes Chloe feel more like a bewildering enigma than a fully realized, flesh and blood character.  The script is strong at embellishing Moore’s ever agitated and confused wife and Neeson’s coolly confident, charming, but flawed husband, but Chloe is more of an abstract engine to drive the plot.   

Egoyan is a fine and deeply secure filmmaker that specializes in finding just the right balance between obsessing over and detaching himself away from his distressed and alienated subjects, but CHLOE seems like a uncoordinated and undisciplined misfire from his usually provocative resume.  Perhaps the film could have been more…shall we say…pleasurable if it just stuck with being a schlocky and sleazily titillating sex thriller instead of trying to be so ponderously somber and grounded.  The film is, true to its calling, feverously erotic during key moments, but segues too often into unintentionally hammy extremes.   

So, yeah, it’s a real turn off; like loads of foreplay without the sex and pay off.   

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