Mark Reviews Movies

CHLOE

3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Atom Egoyan

Cast: Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Max Thieriot, R.H. Thomson

MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and language)

Running Time: 1:36

Release Date: 3/26/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 25, 2010

Sitting in the heart of this tight, psychological drama is the idea that you can never truly grasp the inner workings of another human being. Chloe gives us a cast of secretive characters, all keeping their motivation and intent close to the chest, and throws their suspicions, desires, and insecurities into a pot at a simmer. The tension is in the waiting for it to boil over.

And boil over it does, but before that, there are reasons presented—some clear, some just sensed below the surface—and characters defined—as much as they will allow themselves to be.

The film is a based on Nathalie from 2003, a comparatively and decidedly lesser movie. Erin Cressida Wilson's screenplay for the remake takes co-writer/director Anne Fontaine's immediate setup of a marriage in peril because of infidelity, fleshes out the characters' reactions to it more, and sends the whole affair spiraling out of control. Purists might find the changes intolerable, but here is a remake with teeth, one that doesn't merely settle on the ways of the original but finds ways to take them to another, fascinating level.

The inciting action is familiar (and not just to the original movie). Catherine (Julianne Moore) begins to suspect that her husband David (Liam Neeson) is and has been cheating on her, after he misses a flight back home (missing a surprise birthday party she has thrown) and she finds a photo on his cell phone of him with a younger girl from the night he missed his plane. She notices other things, too, like David's panache for flirting with every woman he encounters and enjoying his chats online with female students more than the live ones with her. He says he's just being friendly; she sees something else happening.

To determine if David is cheating, Catherine hires Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), an escort whom she meets in the bathroom of a restaurant where she and David and their womanizing friend (R.H. Thomson) have dinner one night, to see if David will take the bait.

Director Atom Egoyan establishes the mistrust in Catherine's family early on and, from there, shows how far communication has broken down within it. When David finally comes home, he is just finishing preparation for work, shaving and walking into the kitchen for coffee. He and Catherine exchange few words, and the distance between them is palpable.

She and her son Michael (Max Thieriot) talk even less. When she wakes up in the morning, she only then realizes that the kid has had his girlfriend spend the night, much to Catherine's disapproval. There's a quiet scene in which she overhears husband and Michael talking about the son's breakup with the girl. Catherine listens from the window upstairs; Moore's overall subtle performance in this scene is all in her face—admiration for her husband's paternal abilities and combined with the absence of her influence, participation, or even presence in her son's life.

Then there are her scenes with Chloe, who in an opening voice-over speaks of how important communication is to her line of work—describing what she will do is just as important as what she can do. In her business relationship with Catherine, Chloe tells Catherine everything she has done with David, in such vivid detail that Catherine imagines the scenes in her head long after the first conversation. Seyfried is fully confident in the role, imbuing Chloe with that power of description, stated with matter-of-fact precision as Catherine's world falls apart around her.

Moore carries the film in a tricky performance. Is Catherine, as she suggests late in the proceedings, living vicariously through Chloe, remembering when she was younger, a woman who felt at ease seducing her husband? Is she carrying out a voyeuristic fantasy with a trace of masochism? Is she simply captivated, enamored with the girl, who is everything she wants to be again? There's a specific scene with Catherine imagining her husband's infidelity in the shower, which Egoyan stages in such a way that one could infer she is either experiencing pained pleasure or reflection. Either way—and this is the important part—there is pain in the moment.

Her reasoning isn't so easy to pinpoint, because Catherine cannot be sure of it herself. Certainly, with the way Chloe begins to expand her role beyond what Catherine originally intended (revealing that she has been seeing David outside of the times on which the two have arranged), self-discovery is not on a high list of priorities.

Wilson's screenplay veers wildly away from the original in the relationship between Catherine and Chloe, but it adds a new layer to Catherine's confusion, making her character as much a conundrum as Chloe. Chloe has to be a mystery for the story to work, especially as it traverses into the climax. Here, the tables gradually turn on just about everyone, with Chloe's uncertain sense of self as the impetus. It shifts into thriller territory, but the film's awareness of the characters never makes the move an illogical leap. Even in the midst of the buildup to a confrontation, Wilson makes time for a moment between Catherine and David in which everything is revealed.

These moments, quiet ones full of inner bewilderment and aching, hold the film together, and Egoyan balances the inherent sensationalism of the material with the enigma of the characters' respective psyches. This determined focus makes Chloe a highly evocative psychological drama.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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