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Chloe (2009)

by on 2013/03/23

Chloe (2009)“You have affair written all over you.”

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Chloe had the odds against it from the start, and still triumphed in so many ways. Clearly marketed as an erotic thriller, it could hardly meet such expectations. Erotic only in very few and brief sequences – at least in the version I saw – it’s a “thriller” insofar as you find rocky relationships thrilling. It’s more a character drama, but an interesting one.

Mix together Teorema, Dead Ringers, and Fatal Attraction, remove any violent psychosis, and you’ve got a result compelling enough to tip my Atom Egoyan scales (The Sweet Hereafter) back into the black.

A remake of a French film called Nathalie, it stars Liam Neeson (Unknown) as a post-secondary music professor, David Stewart, who divides his time between work in New York and his family’s home in Toronto. He’s married to a doctor, Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore of Next), who suspects him of cheating on her. She enlists the services of an escort, Chloe Sweeney (Amanda Seyfried of Jennifer’s Body), to test his faithfulness.

Relationships ensue. Many, many complex relationships. It’s less about triangles than some crazy four-sided object. Maybe even five. Let’s call it a web to be safe.

At first my reaction was, “Wow, this feels like Possible Worlds” with its high society medical and academic settings. As time went on, however, the similarities to Dead Ringers overwhelmed me . . . the obsessiveness, the sexual themes, the gynaecology office, and the overt trappings of Toronto on full display: Allan Gardens, Beck and Royal taxis, the Cafe Diplomatico, the Maple Leafs, Now Magazine boxes, the Rivoli, and Yorkville, plus a clear appreciation for the music of Raised by Swans (Everything’s Gone Green).

The film-making is lush and rich without being gauche, showing everyone everywhere from pleasing angles, in flattering lights, making our most difficult task only to accept the conceit that Julianne Moore feels old. Egoyan metes out his tricks sparingly, effectively, and on multiple levels, in ways I can’t describe without spoiling the plot. Suffice to say, just pay attention to how he employs glass and mirrors, foodstuffs, smells, music, and the characters’ professions.

There is even a pivotal moment (unfortunately ruined by the trailer) when Chloe breaks the fourth wall and looks at us. The tone of intensity, restrained up to that point, is suddenly overwhelming, catalytic. In most such moments, outside of comedy, you could well imagine it not working, dysfunctional gimmickry. That isn’t the case here, however, being spare, well-acted, and subtly handled.

An early comment I jotted down was “relentlessly depressing”. By the end of Chloe, that feeling remained, yet tinged with complexities. The story’s satisfying execution made all the difference in my appreciation of both a harrowing subject and the talents of a director I’m anxious to celebrate.

* * * *

Rated 18A

96 minutes

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