Dir:- Atom Egoyan
Starr:- Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Max Thieriot
Sometimes a director leaves you so enraged you can barely put into words the fury that you feel toward them. It could be argued that on almost all such occasions that fury comes from a source of love. In short, I really have to accept that I’m over Atom Egoyan. Way back in the early nineties The Adjuster brought Atom Egoyan to my attention. Here was a dark, uncompromising movie about sex, power, authority, pain and loss that impressively married its insular poetic vision to an expansive understanding of humanity’s awkward ‘moral’ relationship with sex and violence. Egoyan seemed a brave new cinematic talent back then and although Exotica was a more obviously flawed work, his superb adaptation of Russell Banks’ The Sweet Hereafter appeared to cement his reputation as one of modern cinema’s great auteurs, a man determined to explore, in almost forensic detail, the pain and suffering human beings endure for the sake of love and family.
However, after the oddity that was Felicia’s Journey, Egoyan’s work became increasingly dull, clichéd and condescendingly didactic, with both Ararat and Where the Truth Lies being guileless experiments in narrative chronology. Ararat, in particular, was such a dreadful movie that it forced me to reconsider the merits of those previous works I’d hitherto considered masterpieces (something that previously only the depressingly downward trajectory of Woody Allen’s output had managed to provoke).
In 2008 Egoyan appeared to be tantalisingly close to a critical comeback. Although that year’s Adoration was an uneven effort, it still managed to show enough signs of possible new thematic and stylistic developments to convince me not to give up entirely on Egoyan. Thus, on hearing that he was working with the wonderful Julianne Moore on his new release Chloe, I allowed myself to have high hopes for the project.
Chloe is the story of Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore), a gynecologist, and the wife of the handsome and charming classical musician David (played with a fair smidgen of conviction by Liam Neeson), who becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair. After a chance encounter with a prostitute in a posh-hotel restaurant Catherine decides to hire this attractive young woman to try to seduce her husband. Getting evidence of her husband’s infidelities, Catherine embarks on a strange relationship with the prostitute, the eponymous Chloe, which ultimately has serious repercussions for her family when Chloe begins to insinuate herself into the affections of Catherine’s teenage son Michael (Max Stewart).
Central to Egoyan’s narrative explorations has been the way that memory interacts with, and shapes, experience, and in, Chloe, one of the more effective strands of the narrative involves the distance and disappointment that memory establishes within the confines of a lengthy marriage. Chloe is an adaptation of a recent French movie (featuring Emmanuelle Beart) called Nathalie. I’ve not viewed this version, but can surmise from some critical responses that it’s a little more risqué than this limp and lifeless attempt at a thriller. Borrowing the tried and tested blueprint laid down in Play Misty for Me, and carried off to some degree of success in Curtis Hanson’s The Hand that Rock’s the Cradle, Chloe is essentially a stalker-thriller, which does a reasonable job of appearing at first to have more ambitious narrative aims.
Egoyan casts two strong female performers in Amanda Seyfried (possessor of truly bewitching pale blue eyes) and Julianne Moore as the odd couple relationship at the heart of the movie. In one of those typically forced Egoyan encounters, Moore’s gynecologist meets Seyfried’s prostitute in a ladies bathroom and an immediate mutual fascination is struck up. The film assuredly handles the manipulations of power in their relationship, yet never really allows either actor to fully immerse themselves in their roles.
Moore is an old-hand at playing women perilously on the edge of reason and her descent into an almost morbid voyeurism is initially fascinating, particularly as it is coupled with the perversities of the vicarious nature of the women’s sexual relationship. Moore’s character is using Chloe in much the same way a male client might, because she seems to want to experience a little of her husband’s life which has otherwise become occluded from her.
These early exchanges between Seyfried and Moore are really the film’s sole strong point, as from midway through the movie Egoyan drops into the clichéd structures of the stalker-film, replete with ludicrous ending. This is doubly disappointing as Egoyan is not working from his own screenplay, but rather the work of Secretary screenwriter Cressida Wilson. In Secretary Cressida Wilson managed to capture some sparklingly witty and downright filthy dialogue that fitted the stylised nature of the movie perfectly. Somehow Egoyan has managed to drain much of that vitality from Cressida Wilson’s work, leaving the dialogue sounding eerily reminiscent to his own dire, ponderous and pretentious efforts in both Ararat and Where the Truth Lies.
Too often in the movie Egoyan refuses to allow the subtleties of the characterisation to flourish and rather seeks to bludgeon the audience with some embarrassingly obvious visual metaphors, such as the hair clasp that passes between the women, the compartmentalised architecture of the house and the attention given to a skinned knee. I’m sure that for a viewer unacquainted with Egoyan’s early work Chloe may well play out like a relatively slick stalker-thriller and thus be deserving of a little attention, but knowing the exceptional qualities of his best films I can’t help but feel, rather aptly, cheated.