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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Chloe (review)

Tangled Web

I didn’t know, going in to Chloe, that it is an English-language remake of the 2003 French film Nathalie… So as it unspooled, I found myself not pondering sexy Gallic flicks but, instead, this: “Atom Egoyan’s been watching Fatal Attraction, hasn’t he?”

I like Egoyan, the sensitive Canadian director of films such as The Sweet Hereafter and last year’s Adoration. I really do. And if he told himself, “I will make a sexy nudy arthouse softcore porn flick with Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfriend and maybe more people will see my movies,” I’m okay with that.
I wish Chloe was more involving, though. I wish that if Egoyan wanted to make a sexy softcore movie, he had made one that fully embraced its sexiness. I wish that the bits in which it is actually sexy were a little less… mean and depressing.

Cuz this is a story about manipulation. About mistrust. About people who supposedly have an intimate relationship yet are unable to communicate with each other. And when it gets sexy, it’s a lie. It might be, you know, “hot” on its surface, beautiful bodies beautifully photographed doing things to each other that, you know, ohmigod! But it’s all more sad than anything else.

Not that there’s anything wrong with sad, either, of course. But even the sad here never quite gels into anything satisfying in the right kind of melancholy way.

Maybe it’s just a girl thing that I’d like my sexy nudy arthouse softcore to be a little healthier in the psychological department. I realize this does not necessary make for the best stories ever, but messed-up folk lying to the people they’re fucking isn’t automatically interesting, either.

There’s Catherine Stewart, see, a Toronto doctor, and she is Julianne Moore (A Single Man, Blindness), who is a goddess at portraying cold, clinical femininity. She thinks her husband of many years, David (Liam Neeson: Five Minutes of Heaven, Ponyo), is having an affair. And after a chance meeting in a restaurant ladies’ room with a high-class call girl, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried: Dear John, Jennifer’s Body), Catherine hits on the notion of hiring Chloe to approach her husband — not as a prostitute but as a student, which dovetails nicely with David’s work as a music professor, a job that puts him right in the path of easily impressed, worshipful young things — and see what he does when presented with a lovely and willing young supplicant. Chloe does this, and reports back to Catherine on what transpired.

No, I won’t tell you what transpired. But it’s at this point where Chloe starts getting tricky, from a storytelling perspective. It’s all “oh what a tangled web we weave, etc.,” of course, but not just from Catherine’s and Chloe’s and David’s perspectives: from Egoyan’s and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson’s (Secretary) as well. There are layers of manipulation at work that we’re not aware of at first, and whether you catch on to them immediately (as I did) or are surprised by their unveiling, the motives that have been driving everyone to do what they did are never quite clear. I would never wish for such things to be overexplicated — and I would never expect a director of Egoyan’s faculty to do so — but they do need to feel organic, and not tacked on in a calculated way.

Yeah, Chloe is elegant: designed with an eye toward reflecting the coldness and isolation of its characters, performed by a cast that is always a joy to watch. But it never makes that leap from aesthetically pleasing to emotionally rewarding.

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watch at home

MPAA: rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine

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