Catherine and David, she a doctor, he a professor, are at first glance the perfect couple. Happily married with a talented teenage son, they appear to have an idyllic life. But when David misses a flight and his surprise birthday party, Catherine's long simmering suspicions rise to the surface. Suspecting infidelity, she decides to hire an escort to seduce her husband and test his loyalty. Catherine finds herself 'directing' Chloe's encounters with David, and Chloe's end of the bargain is to report back, the descriptions becoming increasingly graphic as the meetings multiply. Written by
If anyone was suited for remaking the French film Nathalie, it was Atom Egoyan, whose deeply twisted and occasionally perverse studies of sexuality, expressed through an apparently cold directorial eye, go hand in hand with a script that emphasized words over images (though there is a bit more flesh in the English-language transition). Hence the rather brilliant Chloe, whose prime accomplishment lies in its being less showy and pretentious than the director's previous foray into erotic secrets, the ambitious Where the Truth Lies.
Set in Egoyan's home town of Toronto, Chloe tells the story of the eponymous call girl (Amanda Seyfried) who is hired by gynecologist Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) when the latter starts to suspect her husband (Liam Neeson) is having an affair. Chloe's job is to casually approach him and see if he falls for her charm, thus indicating his propensity for adultery. However, as the girl's reports get more and more graphic, Catherine realizes she has put herself in an awkward position, one that it will be difficult to get out of.
A fascinating hybrid between psychological drama and erotic thriller (there's a vague hint of Fatal Attraction throughout the movie), Chloe is a rarity due to its attempt to analyze sex and its consequences without necessarily resorting to openly titillating imagery (a characteristic Egoyan shares with another Canadian maestro, David Cronenberg). The only downside of this approach is the same flaw that was much more evident in Where the Truth Lies, namely a deliberately slow pace that affects the thriller aspects but enhances the emotional poignancy, something that comes off as a paradox given the seemingly cold subject matter.
Furthermore, there is no coldness to be found in the carefully crafted performances: Neeson and Moore play the troubled couple with conviction, especially when things start getting more complicated (Moore's suspicious wife is a tour de force turn that should have received some award recognition), but the heart of the film lies, quite predictably, in Seyfried's hands, and she rises to the challenge by proving that she can do Big Love-style quality work on the big screen, embodying a complex, intriguing character light years away from her roles in Mamma Mia! and Mean Girls.
Overall, Chloe is a very good movie: sexy without being gratuitous, psychological without getting pompous and, like its title character, delightfully surprising.
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