Chloe (United States/Canada/France, 2009)March 23, 2010
Since imprinting his name on the international indie box office with his mid-'90s one-two punch of Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, Toronto-based filmmaker Atom Egoyan has been struggling to regain his footing. In one way or another, his last few efforts have been flawed and have not come close achieving the impact of the best titles on his resume. Nevertheless, his recent slump notwithstanding, Egoyan remains an interesting director - one whose near-misses and outright failures retain a compulsive quality. Such is the case with Chloe, whose production schedule was interrupted by a real-life tragedy that may have had far-reaching implications in the bizarre direction taken during the final act. Liam Neeson was filming Chloe at the time of his wife's death and, although Neeson returned at a later date to film a few "critical" scenes, it is unclear whether screenplay alterations were needed to accommodate his limited availability. Egoyan has stated that major changes were not necessary, but something caused a 90-degree alteration in tone and focus.
Deception lies at the core of Chloe, which is a remake of the more subtle and philosophical French film Nathalie. For about the first 2/3 of its running length, Chloe remains faithful to the spirit, if not necessarily the particulars, of its inspiration. In fact, up to about the one-hour mark, it's an excellent re-interpretation that had me excited by the possibility of the "old" Egoyan re-emerging like Rip van Winkle from a long slumber. Then, for reasons known only to the filmmakers, it metamorphoses into a Canadian lesbian version of Fatal Attraction. Far be it from me to complain about a surprisingly explicit sex scene between Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried, but what the hell...? What was Egoyan thinking? (Out of context, I loved the scene. It is tremendously erotic. Four-star material on the soft core meter.)
Liam Neeson plays David, a well-liked professor. He is married to Catherine (Moore), an upscale Toronto gynecologist. David enjoys harmless flirting and being open to his (female) students, and this has caused an insecure Catherine to begin flirting with the green-eyed monster. Eventually, convinced by circumstantial evidence of David's infidelity, she decides to the proof she needs to force a confrontation. For that, she hires a local doe-eyed call girl named Chloe (Seyfried). Catherine wants Chloe to seduce David then report back to her with a detailed description of everything that occurs. And it doesn't stop after just one "date." As the affair intensifies, Catherine finds herself equally repelled and fascinated in her position of second-hand voyeur, and falls victim to Chloe's seductive spell.
Nathalie employed this premise as a launching point for a talky exploration of marriage and fidelity. Chloe is more of a character study, at least until it goes off the deep end. David is the poised, confident individual in the triangle; Catherine is insecure; and Chloe is an enigma - she's not even sure who she actually is. By her own admission, she is transformed into men's fantasies then disappears when she's no longer needed. In the finished film, David is more of a prop than an actual character. Chloe zeroes in on Catherine and Chloe and the relationship that develops between them. There is little or no sexual chemistry between Seyfried and Neeson, since most of their interaction occurs off-screen. But there's plenty between Seyfried and Moore, all of which bubbles over in the aforementioned lesbian sex scene. Egoyan has directed plenty of nudity in the past, but that may be the hottest thing he has ever done, trumping the strip club sequences in Exotica.
This movie feels like what one might anticipate if Hollywood got its hands on Nathalie. Too much philosophical talk? Cut down on the dialogue. Not enough action? Add lots of sex and nudity. (Although, to be fair, Emmanuelle Beart was naked in the original.) A cerebral and ambiguous ending? Borrow from Fatal Attraction. Watching Chloe disintegrate during its closing moments is a bitter pill. It's not the first time a good movie has come to a bad end but this represents a case of extremes. I love the first 2/3 of Chloe and hate the overwrought, cheesy resolution. Also coming into play are a fondness for the actors involved in this project and an appreciation of the core ideas masticated in Nathalie.
Chloe exists in a twilight realm. It's probably too "arty" to work on a purely exploitative level (hints of the Fatal Attraction approach don't appear until about 75 minutes into the film) and the dumbed-down ending will keep it from being fully embraced by the art film crowd. It's actually enjoyable level given reasonable expectations: the performances are uniformly good, the cinematography is evocative, there's plenty of steamy action, and (despite some watering down by screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson) some interesting issues are broached. But, for those who remember Egoyan at the top of his craft, there's no way to represent this as anything less than another disappointment.
Chloe (United States/Canada/France, 2009)
Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, Max Thieriot
Screenplay: Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the screenplay for Nathalie by Anne Fontaine
Cinematography: Paul Sarossy
Music: Mychael Danna
U.S. Distributor: Sony Classics