Monday, October 26, 2009

Review - Chloe

Atom Egoyan has made some poor films in his career, but at least they were his poor films, as much a product of the director's own personality and obsessions as his best work was. I never had him down as a hack-for-hire, but with Chloe we find the director wasting his time on some sub-Joe Eszterhas silliness that can't be glossed up into anything more, no matter how hard Egoyan tries to impose his own artistic sensibility on it. The film is a remake of Anne Fontaine's 2003 drama Nathalie... (one of the worst films I've ever seen), and the saving grace of Chloe is that it is a marked improvement on the original, as meagre an achievement as that may seem. It is also one of Egoyan's most accessible and potentially mainstream-friendly works, but that still doesn't mean it's any good.

The French version of this tale starred Fanny Ardant and Gérard Depardieu as a married couple, with Emmanuelle Béart appearing as the eponymous character, a prostitute hired by Ardant to seduce her husband and to report back – in excruciating detail – if he succumbs to her charms. Erin Cressida Wilson's updated screenplay keeps the bare bones of the tale intact, with Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson taking on the spousal duties. Moore's Catherine is an unhappy and frustrated gynaecologist, who can't connect with her moody teenage son and who fears her husband may be straying now the spark has gone out of their marriage. David is a charismatic university professor who is adored by his students, and a few scraps of evidence suggest to Catherine that he is having an affair with one of them, which is when she does what any wronged wife would do...she hires a hooker. A hooker who, it turns out, is far more interested in Catherine than her husband.

Chloe feels like a warmed-over plot from an early 90's erotic thriller, which Egoyan tries to elevate with his typically elegant direction, but the performances are the only aspect of the film he really gets right. Julianne Moore gives her finest display for years as the brittle Catherine, once again showing that few actresses can play a character who is barely holding it all together better than she can. Neeson is fine in a role that doesn't give him a great deal to do, but Amanda Seyfried, as Chloe, is slightly more problematic. She's perfectly OK in the film earliest scenes, when she plays the role as something of an enigmatic blank; after all, this is one of the character's traits, being a blank canvas that men can project their own fantasies onto. But when she is required to turn Chloe into something more than that – i.e. when the film lurches into Fatal Attraction territory – she falls short of what's required.

And so does Egoyan. For about an hour, Chloe is watchable enough, if entirely generic and rife with clichés, but in its final half-hour, we see just how ill-suited the director is to material of this nature. While this story does allow him to explore some of his favourite themes – voyeurism, sexual obsession, trust – his clinical seriousness makes this essentially trashy material seem even more absurd, and the whole film feels oddly uneven in tone. But it's that climax which really throws the whole off the rails, with Egoyan being unable or unwilling to give the ending the kind of pulpy energy it requires, and the Hand That Rocks the Cradle-style dénouement is laughable as a result. Perhaps you could make a case for Chloe's themes and subject matter being a good fit for this auteur's body of work, but whatever it was that Egoyan will claim attracted him to this material, it ends up looking like botched, impersonal hackwork, which is depressing when it has been made by a man who is anything but.