There are two good reasons to see Atom Egoyan’s erotic thriller Chloe (Sony Pictures Classics): Amanda Seyfried naked and Julianne Moore naked. Egoyan, a Canadian, has a Gallic casualness about above-the-waist nudity, so by the end of this 96-minute tale of infidelity and voyeurism, the viewer has a more-than-nodding acquaintance with its female stars’ breasts. (If I wanted to, I could describe them in detail right now, with a frank, unnerving solemnity that would be in keeping with the movie’s tone.) Seyfried and Moore are both terrific actresses whom I would pay good money to watch not naked, and thanks to their heroic efforts (and those of their costar, Liam Neeson) Chloe remains engaging for longer than any movie this schlocky and overwritten has a right to be. But the movie loses what little goodwill it’s managed to build up by the last act, which feels clumsily grafted from a completely different film.
Moore’s character, Catherine, is a gynecologist married to a music professor, David (Neeson). Those professions must pay very well in Canada, because the couple and their 17-year-old son Michael (Max Thieriot) live in a vast, luxurious modernist house outside Toronto (played by the architect Drew Mandel’s Ravine House). On the surface, it’s an elegant, enviable life, but, underneath, the marriage is strained. Catherine suspects her distant husband of cheating on her with a student, and their son openly flouts his mother’s rules by bringing a girlfriend over for nightly sleepovers. In a contrived encounter in the bathroom of a fancy restaurant, Catherine meets a beautiful, emotionally needy call girl named Chloe (Seyfried). Eventually, Catherine offers to hire Chloe to try to seduce her husband as a test of his fidelity.
Some might argue that dangling the buxom, flaxen-haired, creamy-skinned Seyfried in front of one’s spouse as sexual bait and expecting him or her to resist constitutes a violation of the Geneva Conventions. But Catherine has high standards—and also, it seems, a libidinal investment in imagining her husband in bed with the toothsome Chloe. The two women begin meeting in cafes to exchange envelopes of money and explicit accounts of Chloe’s increasingly racy encounters with David.
Chloe is a remake of Nathalie, a French thriller from 2003 in which Fanny Ardant sicced Emmanuelle Béart on Gerard Depardieu in similar fashion. Though not without tawdriness, that movie was superior to this one, in large part because of the deftly drawn relationship between the two female leads. Atom Egoyan and his screenwriter, Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary, Fur) are keen to impress on us how very enigmatic and mysterious the bond is between Catherine and Chloe. Are they playing out a mother-daughter scenario, competing for David’s sexual attention, or lusting after each other? But the tension between them feels artificial and overheated, with Mychael Danna’s intrusive score instructing us how to feel in virtually every moment of every scene.
Egoyan loves to compose his frame so that all of the elements in the shot have symbolic meaning: As Catherine imagines her husband cheating on her with Chloe in a glass-walled greenhouse, she presses her own hand against a glass shower door. But these gestures toward parallelism feel too on-the-nose, like the earnest thesis project of a film-school student. Even in his best movies, of which this is not one, Egoyan is the kind of determinedly arty director to whom one is always silently saying, “We get it.”
After a third-act twist in which Chloe’s motivations are finally spelled out, the tone of sexually explicit portentousness takes a turn for the absurd. Without revealing the details of the various anguished conversations and romps on high-end bedding that lead up to the violent climax, I can say that the biggest aesthetic influence on Chloe’s finale is not David Cronenberg (the Canadian filmmaker Egoyan has cited as a mentor), but the Paul Verhoeven of Basic Instinct. The only Verhoeven element that’s missing is deliberate camp, a healthy ladling of which might have made Chloe worth watching for some reason other than the prospect of glimpsing Seyfried’s and Moore’s admirably formed torsos.