Anyone can make a movie that is sexy. In fact, I’ve seen more than a few films in my day that were sexy, and nothing else. What they give us visual stimuli is not balanced with any substance. Substance is what can make a sexy film an erotic one. It takes great care and consideration, and a strong handle on the development of characters and their story to make an erotic film. That is exactly the case with Atom Egoyan’s latest thriller Chloe. Sure, it is sexy. But it is also very intelligent, stylish and above all things, committed to its characters.
The story is a familiar one. Dr. Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) is a classy, professional gynecologist who loves her husband David (Liam Neeson). They have an ambitious son (Max Thieriot) who excels in school and music, and a wonderful home just outside of New York. The only problem is that intimacy has left their home — or at least, mom and dad’s bedroom — and Catherine believes that her college professor husband is getting too close with some of his young students. That’s when she meets Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a beautiful young call girl whose services she uses to lure in her husband and see if he is stepping out on her. At first, all goes as planned. But it isn’t long before the relationship between Chloe and David — and for that matter, the relationship between Chloe and Catherine — spins out of control in ways that Catherine never could have imagined. All of the sudden, the game is changed, and everyone is playing by Chloe’s rules.
Even though I can’t claim to be intimately familiar with the work of Atom Egoyan — I know, it makes me an awful film snob (thankfully) — a few things are abundantly clear in watching Chloe. Egoyan is a patient filmmaker. He meticulously builds tension over the course of the first two acts of this film, only to let emotion and sexual tension explode in the film’s final act. He is also a filmmaker who doesn’t pull any punches. The film’s most erotic moments are raw and visceral — and challenging. This is a result of two things — an expert level of development (see the patience I just mentioned) and intensely focused performances. He also has a sense of style. From natural lighting to the magnetic nature Amanda Seyfried’s eyes in every shot, much about this film is visually interesting.
It is clear early on that Egoyan’s handle on ambiance and atmospheric style are signs of a director in full control of the environment around his characters. Though, it is also clear that he owes much of the success of his film to his leading ladies. Amanda Seyfried’s performance is one of the most audacious we’ve seen from a young actress in a long time. She is enchanting. It’s not just about the baring of her naked body, or the fiercely provocative sex scene she has with Julianne Moore. It’s about the layers of Chloe the reside under the bare surfaces we see on screen. At first, Chloe is a confident girl who is broken under her stone surface. As the film moves on, she becomes more innocent and playful, only to take a turn toward crazy-town in act three that is as fitting as it is jarring. In this film, Seyfried shows herself to be an actress with impressive range, talent and maturity well beyond her years. Combine her with the rock-solid performance of Julianne Moore, and you have the emotional core of a film that is flooded with intensity, sexual and otherwise.
The end of the film is the most bothersome point. Withholding spoilers in the interest of allowing you to enjoy the film yourself — as I’m clearly recommending you see it — I will say this: Chloe‘s end is the cinematic equivelant of watching someone walk confidently and glamorously off a cliff. Egoyan makes a stylistic choice in the climactic scene that impairs its ability to be as effective as possible. In short, there is a moment of stylish camerawork where none is needed. A more subtle approach may have been even more chilling, considering the patient manner in which tension has been built up to the point.
Alas, even this off-kilter decisive moment won’t wash away the effects of Amanda Seyfried’s intoxicating performance, nor will it overshadow the intensely riveting moments between Seyfried’s Chloe and Moore’s Catherine. These are the moments that matter most in Egoyan’s film, and these are the most affecting moments because of great care and meticulous build-up. It makes for an experience that, while familiar, is thrilling and intoxicating. You may need a cold shower after seeing it.
The Upside: Amanda Seyfried’s performance is gripping and seductive, as is Julianne Moore’s. A patient storyteller, Egoyan achieves great tension through methodical character development and unflinching style.
The Downside: The film’s climactic close is less than climactic, impaired by a style-over substance decisive scene.
On the Side: Both Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried have the same birthday.