Review by Willard Manus
CHLOE, the latest film by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, is a strange, kinky but compelling exploration of sexual obsession. Set in Toronto, the story zeroes in on three characters--a married couple and the hot young callgirl who turns their relationship topsy-turvy.
The always effective Julianne Moore plays Dr. Catherine Stewart, a hardworking, successful gynecologist whose husband David (Liam Neeson) teaches music at a local university. On the face of it, they are a dream couple--handsome, well-heeled professionals living in the lap of luxury (their palatial glass house is right out of the pages of Architectual Digest). But--cue the foreboding music--problems gnaw like termites beneath the glossy surface of their married life.
To begin with, they've got a surly, rebellious 17-year-old son, Michael (Max Thierot, last seen in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl). Michael not only doesn't speak to his mother but delights in tormenting her. He not only brings his girlfriend home but openly shacks up with her there.
David is apparently just as horny as his son. When we first see him, he's lecturing to his students--and flirting with the prettiest girl in the class. She later keeps the flirtation alive by sending him suggestive messages over the internet.
Catherine has long been aware of her hubby's interest in young girls. She is after all a hip, sophisticated woman--but in the past she didn't feel threatened by David's dalliances, if only because they seemed innocent and trivial. But then things begin to change. Catherine, feeling the onslaught of middleage, knowing she and David rarely have sex these days, suspects him of having an extra-marital affair.
Egoyan underlines Catherine's jealous state of mind by making her look drab and washed-out. Over-worked and stressed-out as a doctor, Catherine makes things worse by wearing frumpy dresses and dispensing with makeup. Still, hubby doesn't show any signs of wanting to dump her.
Then Chloe enters the picture. Actually, Chloe, played with skill and sensuousness by Amanda Seyfried (Meryl Streep's daughter in Mamma Mia!), is the first person we see in the movie. As a prelude to the story, her naked, voluptuous body fills the screen. Then, as she slowly begins to get dressed, Chloe addresses us in a teasing, intimate voice. She knows all about pleasure, she confides, and is equally wise in the ways of love.
Later we learn that Chloe is an expensive call girl. Catherine, who meets her by accident in an upscale restaurant and then treats her medically, is intrigued by this blue-eyed, blonde-haired, enigmatic young whore. Part-child, part-vamp, there is something mysterious and exotic about her.
Then the story, written by Erin Cressida Wilson, takes off in a strange, bizarre direction. Catherine, wanting proof that her husband is cheating on her, hires Chloe to test David's fidelity.
Chloe is not only paid to try and seduce David but report back in lurid, explicit detail. Soon these confessions begin to turn Catherine on. Her long-suppressed sexuality having been reawakened, Catherine enters into a dangerous liason with Chloe, who has now become the fiery object of her desire.
Egoyan investigates the film's love triangle with his customary understatement and subtlety. In lesser hands, CHLOE might have been become a lurid, steamy B-movie. With Egoyan at the helm, though, CHLOE stands out as a complex and haunting psychological thriller.