Envisioned as a psychosexual thriller about a woman scorned, director Atom Egoyan’s latest puzzle is instead little more than a messy affair with mood lighting, sexy lingerie, heavy breathing and swelling, um, music.
Everyone here is dripping with money, lust and anxiety, all to bad effect. Julianne Moore is Catherine, a successful OB-GYN who suspects husband David (Liam Neeson), a college music professor, of something more than a pedagogical interest in one of his students.
The couple have a modern two-city marriage, a modern house of the sort that graces the pages of Architectural Digest and, despite the relative intelligence of everyone involved, a thoroughly mid-century (not modern) way of dealing with their issues. They don’t talk.
So, rather than have a conversation about her suspicions, or therapy, or get drunk with friends, Catherine hires a high-end hooker named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) and sets out to trap her cheating spouse — if he is cheating.
The problem with setting traps is that they sometimes ensnare the wrong animal. What is a given is that someone will get hurt, and Chloe leaves all manner of collateral damage lying around.
Egoyan and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson are using an unconventional premise to examine the nature of betrayal and the power of the imagination to fill in the blanks, a deep well the filmmaker has dipped into many times. The specific template has been given them by the 2003 French film Nathalie, with writer/director Anne Fontaine having a hand in adapting Chloe.
The issues about the sexual balance of power in relationships quickly lose steam, particularly when Chloe makes her reconnaissance reports sound like expensive phone sex and Catherine starts developing new obsessions as she gets pulled deeper into the mire.
Egoyan has always been good with actors, and Moore and Neeson are skilled at making trouble interesting to watch, if not as compelling as it should be. Seyfried, with that Rapunzel hair ever coming loose from its filigreed comb, certainly looks the seductress on the exceedingly lush canvas created by the filmmaker. Desire hangs like a heavy perfume in her crushed velvet world.
At times, the texture of the film is so seductive it is almost enough to forgive the flaws. Though the filmmaker has struggled in recent years (Adoration, Where the Truth Lies), when Egoyan is on point, as he was in his 1997 breakthrough The Sweet Hereafter, he turns hope, love and tragedy into something rare and too easily shattered.
In Chloe, it’s hard to care if anything breaks. Respond: email@example.com