Catherine (Julianne Moore) suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) is cheating and hires the charm-talking, chameleon-like prostitute Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to get confirmation. Chloe's sordid tales escalate, breaking down Catherine's marriage while opening her up to unexpected desires.
How to stalk Julianne Moore in this modern age...
I love a tawdry thriller you turn past on Cinemax as much as the next tasteless person, so I was titillated to see Atom Egoyan's Chloe -- a pretentious cousin to the Poison Ivy franchise if there ever was one. It could very well be part of the series if it were underscored by saxophone and Chloe's name had been replaced with some kind of orchid. Amanda Seyfried's in the Drew Barrymore/Alyssa Milano/Forgotten Blonde temptress role, and Julianne Moore has the life and body she desires. The difference here is the baffling talents of someone like Julianne Moore, and an acclaimed arthouse director providing thematic weight to the plentiful tit shots.
Moore's exquisite as ever playing to her strengths of the repressed housewife and forlorn mother figure. Also true to form, she's no stranger to going topless for her art (even strictly bottomless in Short Cuts). Even when the film takes a southern route toward being a more conventional femme stalker flick in the vein of Notes on a Scandal or Single White Female, Moore fleshes out her character long before she gets her flesh out. Also typical of her career, she's awkward when thrust into the high-stakes thriller mold, but give her a sparse line of dialogue or welling of tears and it's masterfully dimensional work.
Moore's character Catherine is stifled by a lack of communication in every aspect of her life. Through the simple of act of talking, each sensuous detail offered by Chloe stirs something dormant in Catherine. Their "business transaction" becomes a strange renewal for both women, while something much darker brews beneath. For the majority of the runtime and the build up to Catherine's revelations about Chloe and her husband, it's beautifully shot, skillfully orchestrated smut with substance.
The turns aren't exactly surprising, nor is director Atom Egoyan's repetitious use of mirrors as symbols, but there's a resonance to the film's themes -- although attached to a rather uninspired finale that underhands much of the emotional restraint. The ending is lifted note for note from the more exploitative Poison Ivy -- surpassing it only in its lack of a naked and thrusting Tom Skerritt. That film likewise has the subtext to support its more sordid elements, with Ivy serving as the symbolic sexuality and mother figure lacking for its repressed main character.
Chloe, too, is the personification of Catherine's repressed desires, for better and for worse. Chloe's profession is to be whoever anyone wants her to be, and as reflected through Catherine, there's intensely untapped desire and yearning for connection. Egoyan wants us look deeper into Chloe as she looks directly into us -- another of the film's many symbolic moments of reflection.
Chloe will be written off by many as trash, given its tired outcome and faint echoes of Shannon Tweed. The elegance surrounding it though is undeniable. Meditations on the modern breakdown of communication and repressive relationships with just a smidgen of softcore. No doubt you'll turn past it on late night cable, drawn in by the flash of flesh whilst channel surfing, or bored whilst awaiting the arrival of your own hooker. Given Egoyan's artful attachment and the confusingly commercial slant, it's one of the more flawed but curious films of the year. It's one worth talking about, and one worth the reflection.