Chloe, which opens today, starts as a sexy psychological drama, but devolves into a "Canadian lesbian version of Fatal Attraction." It's titillating, but ultimately the film "can't be recommended even to people who just want to see Amanda Seyfried naked."
This remake of the 2003 French film Nathalie certainly sounds promising: It's directed by Atom Egoyan, who earned an Oscar nomination for The Sweet Hereafter, and written by Erin Cressida Wilson, who wrote the screenplay for Secretary (and recently talked to us about the new film). Julianne Moore plays Catherine, a wealthy Toronto gynecologist who suspects her college professor husband David (Liam Neeson) is cheating when she finds a message from one of his students on his phone. She hires Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), to test her husband by trying to seduce him at his favorite coffee shop. Things go awry when Chloe starts relating their encounters in graphic detail to Catherine, and the two women wind up having sex, a scene that the movie's marketers have been pushing as the film's main selling point.
Critics generally like the first two thirds of the movie, but say it falls apart toward the end when Chloe turns out to be a psycho. All three leads turn in good performances, and one reviewer claims a monologue by Moore about women becoming less desirable as they age redeems the entire film. But despite good acting and cinematography, eventually the plot becomes far too ludicrous and overly-serious, like trying to intellectualize a late-night Cinemax movie.
Below, a selection of reviews:
Deception lies at the core of Chloe, which is a remake of the more subtle and philosophical French film Nathalie...Up to about the one-hour mark, [Chloe is] 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.)
Seyfried plays Chloe as a woman in command of her instrument — her body, which is for sale, and her mind, which works for itself. Moore, that consummate actress, undergoes a change she only believes is under her control. Neeson is an enigma to his wife and in a different way to us. Egoyan follows his material to an ultimate conclusion. Some will find it difficult to accept. Is it arbitrary? Most of life's conclusions are arbitrary. I am not sure this particular story should, or can, be wound up in a conventional manner. It's not the kind of movie that depends on the certainty of an ending. It's more about how things continue.
Moore and Neeson (who had been shooting the film at the time of the death of his wife, Natasha Richardson) beautifully underplay their roles, lending screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson's (Secretary) dialogue an unexpected, palpable poignancy. But it's Seyfried — also represented at the festival in Jennifer's Body — who makes a major impression, adeptly navigating the twists and turns of her character's not-so-apparent motivations.
Moore's character clearly gets a charge from Seyfried's detailed reports, a charge she can't admit to herself at first. Hers is just one example of desire submerged beneath sterile surfaces, be they the spotless interiors of Moore's ultra-modern home or the cell phones and computer screens that serve as passion's intermediaries. It's rich material for Egoyan, who's made the intersection of technology and passion a recurring theme, and he films it with a mix of cool reserve and slow-burning lust. Moore's performance links neurosis to an arousal she can never fully conceal. Her work nicely contrasts with Seyfried's, whose Na'vi-like eyes never stop looking expressive, even when it isn't clear what her character's trying to say, or to hide. It's a shame, then, that a film so rich in enigma should ultimately take a turn toward the obvious.
There are grown-up moviegoers who will appreciate Chloe - a titillating piece of fromage directed by Atom Egoyan from a script by Erin Cressida Wilson - for its psychological insights and its ideas about identity and desire in modern life. There are also teenage boys who get a hold of Playboy for the articles. There is nothing necessarily wrong with dressing up skin and sex with lacy frills of intellectualism, but too much self-conscious seriousness can spoil both the cerebral turn-on and the voyeuristic thrill.
Simply stated, when Catherine starts losing control, so does the film. The sexual deceptions, experiments, lies and revelations from this point on are polymorphously perverse, as they used to say, but decreasingly credible, leading to a denouement both ludicrous from a dramatic p.o.v. and far too punitive morally for the most transgressive of the central figures. For whatever investment a viewer has left in the story by the climax, the finale blows it all to bits.
Egoyan has always been good with actors, and Moore and Neeson are skilled at making trouble interesting to watch, while Seyfried, with that Rapunzel hair ever coming loose from its filigreed comb, certainly looks the seductress. At times, the texture of the film is so seductive it is almost enough to forgive the flaws. The filmmaker, along with frequent collaborators cinematographer Paul Sarossy and production designer Phillip Barker, and costume designer Debra Hanson, have created an exceedingly lush canvas, particularly for Chloe, where desire hangs like a heavy perfume in her crushed velvet world.
Egoyan's penchant for casting, and eroticizing, the starlet of the moment has begun to rival Woody Allen's - here, he tries to turn Seyfried into a femme fatale, but she just comes off as a wholesome ingenue without layers. The film is Moore's story, and she acts the hell out of one sexy scene, but most of Chloe is plodding and drab. We're a step ahead of Egoyan's tricks, and that's because we've seen them - all of them - before.
No one wants to trash the movie that Liam Neeson was making last year when his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, was fatally injured in a freak skiing accident. Unfortunately, that movie is Atom Egoyan's Chloe, and it can't be recommended even to people who mostly just want to see Amanda Seyfried naked.
When the movie's big twist comes to light and Chloe's darkest side is unleashed, we don't know her well enough to understand the depths of her damage. We do know she's turned on by fashion, though. In one unintentionally hilarious sexual encounter with a man in Catherine's bedroom (let's keep his identity a surprise), Chloe looks over at a closet full of designer high heels and climaxes in a literal shoegasm.
What seemed like standard practice for Parisians comes across here as unsmiling porno-farce. Even the throbbing score, by Mychael Danna, sounds unwittingly risible, and there were times-I refer you to David's first, salivating gaze at Chloe across a coffee shop-when I felt that we could be watching one of those soft-core cable dramas starring the redoubtable Shannon Tweed, with titles like Night Raptures IV or Executive Sensations. Wait, if you must, for the DVD, although even then, once you've heard the hooker say, "I try and find something to love in everybody," there is a strong case that Chloe should be pulled from your Erotica shelf and moved to Science Fiction.
When you strip it down, Chloe is really about women and aging and the different value placed on men and women as they age... Cressida Wilson writes one of the best monologues I have seen about how women start to become invisible as the age while men become more desirable. It was hands down the best scene in the film and Julianne Moore nailed it.
Chloe descends into a preposterous third act that, by any measure, qualifies as a disaster. But it's proof of Egoyan's skill that the film works for as long as it does. Chloe is worth the time if only for Catherine's impassioned, utterly convincing speech to her husband late in the film when she confronts him in an empty cafe. The moment is riveting and authentic, and conveys a raw-boned truth about women in midlife who are continually told that 50 is the new 30, but wake up every day to a mirror that knows otherwise.
Egoyan appears convinced that he's creating a suspenseful work of art, rather than a mildly kinky bit of arthouse exploitation. As a result, Moore genuinely seems to believe she's taking risks simply by dropping her top, while poor Seyfried looks lost every time she's directed to behave like a lunatic. Egoyan could have found something interesting to say about high-priced escorts and the complex relationship they share with their clients. Instead, he's more interested in fetishizing the (barely-there) sexual tension between his gorgeous, oft-naked actresses. So in the end, all Chloe really feels like is the whim of a man who was able to order up his wildest fantasy, and charge it straight to his expense account.
Unfortunately, after liberating this premise from some weaknesses endemic among lesser European films - a bland story, no third act, a certain maudlin pomposity in place of genuine seriousness - Chloe falls prey, near the finish, to weaknesses that plague American movies. We'll leave it at that, except to say that, had this movie ended five minutes earlier, it would probably be counted among the best films of 2010.
... Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson. She takes a ponderous, overly serious, underplotted French film - Nathalie, by the otherwise terrific French director Anne Fontaine - and turns it into something profound and satisfying. Wilson brings out elements in the original film that were not subtle, but subterranean, latent and completely unexplored. She makes sense of motivations and of the characters' personalities and relationships. The result is a remake that's an improvement over the original, and an English-speaking women's film that, for once, beats the French at the genre they do best.
Chloe is that rare Egoyan movie that the filmmaker didn't write himself, but it does hit many of his usual notes: sexual intrigue, an estranged family, the role of modern technology in both connecting and alienating its users. Yet finding the inner Egoyan in Chloe's lurid scenario probably wasn't the most fruitful approach; emphasizing the script's farcical elements might have worked better, since taking the thing seriously is pretty much impossible. Egoyan gets fine performances from his cast, and he sets the tale in a tasteful demimonde of elegant architectural lines and pristine classical music. But c'mon! Erotic obsession, catfights, naked chicks making out - at heart Chloe is a midnight movie, and all the Vivaldi in the world can't change that.