Sunday 25 October 2009

Atom Egoyan's Chloe

The winsome Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!) gets up to all kinds of things that ABBA never wrote a song about in Atom Egoyan’s latest movie. Adapted by Secretary screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson from Anne Fontaine’s 2003 film Nathalie, Chloe turns out to be yet another movie spiced up with a little lipstick lesbianism, in this case a fairly explicit tryst between Seyfried and Julianne Moore. Sadly, the sex scene dissipates the rather intriguing, almost Regarde la Mer-ish tension between the leads and precedes the film’s arthritic stagger into Single White Female mode. Chloe is, by some margin, Egoyan’s trashiest movie to date; it’s as if this radiantly intelligent Canadian auteur had decided that it might be fun to be Paul Verhoeven for the night. Even so, there remains a vague whiff of pretension about Chloe, as if Egoyan was still labouring under the delusion that he was saying something significant about re-lay-shun-ships in this movie. Something. Ah, but what? “The difference in personal interpretation isn’t as ontological [in Chloe] as it is in my other movies," Egoyan has admitted. Umm, right.

Well, ontologically, in Chloe, Moore plays Catherine, a gynaecologist who begins to suspect that her lecturer husband David (Liam Neeson) is having an affair. In order to test his fidelity, Catherine recruits prostitute Chloe (Seyfried) to approach him, and report back on their meetings. The twist is that Chloe, apparently seeking a combination of Mommy and Lover, becomes fixated on Catherine, not David, and morphs into an unholy amalgam of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and Terence Stamp in Theorem.

Focusing initially on the seductive power of language, of sexual acts described but not seen, Chloe stays mildly intriguing for its first half, but falls apart as its revelations pile up. That said, the spectacle of Julianne Moore under duress is always a captivating one, and with her great physical and vocal eloquence, this prodigious actress gives the movie the few emotionally resonant moments that it has. She’s slumming it, though, and can do little with a truly humiliating late scene in which her character basically has to apologise to Neeson for her unattractiveness. (Neeson himself - perhaps unsurprisingly given the woeful personal circumstances under which the film was made for him - hardly registers. The “charm” of his character is demonstrated in one of those movie-lecture scenes in which the doting students break into hysterics at every mild witticism he utters.) Seyfried is game and Max Thieriot has a couple of amusing moments as Catherine and David's randy son. But as with Secretary there’s an insidious quality to Chloe's sexual politics, and the film’s surface transgressiveness masks an unappealing conservative streak.

With no Arsinee Khanjian on hand and not so much as a Canadian accent to be heard (despite the allegedly distinctive Toronto settings we’re clearly in homogenised North America territory here), Chloe really feels like an Atom Egoyan movie in name only. For viewers who’ve found his previous films clunky and pretentious this may be welcome news, but for those of us who’ve grown to cherish the mix of fluidity and portentousness that characterises his style, the new movie feels like something of a sell-out. Even at their most deadly and extreme, Egoyan’s previous films have mostly made a virtue of restraint, of allowing the viewer to piece together the puzzles, to fill in the many gaps. Here he reveals too much, and the results are risible.

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