Dark, sensuous shots luxuriating in the lush contours of Amanda Seyfried’s body open Chloe as Seyfried’s eponymous character describes in voiceover some of the skills particular to her work as a high-class prostitute. Not sexual techniques, but the psychological tricks needed to reinvent herself as the fantasy of any client’s choosing. The narration is a bit too on-the-nose, really, but it establishes a divide between reality and what we choose to see that director Atom Egoyan toys with for the rest of the film. It all goes awry in the end, but for a good stretch, Chloe neatly fixes Egoyan’s career-long obsessions with identity and communication to the familiar framework of the erotic thriller.
Working from a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) adapted from Anne Fontaine’s 2004 French film Nathalie…, Egoyan begins with more eros than thrills. Playing a successful Toronto gynecologist—Canada’s gynecological community has apparently recovered from the havoc wreaked by Jeremy Irons’ Dead Ringers twins—Julianne Moore is first seen advising a sexually frustrated client that an orgasm is little more than muscle contractions caused by proper stimulation of the clitoris. So why does everyone seem to be getting off but Moore? Her son (Max Thieriot) has started entertaining overnight guests, for starters. Then there’s her husband (Liam Neeson), a handsome music professor who flirts openly with students and waitresses and blocks his computer monitor when Moore walks into the room. She assumes—no, knows—he’s cheating on her, so she hires Seyfried to approach him and report back on their affair.
Why? That’s the question at the core of Chloe, or at least at the core of its better parts. Moore’s character clearly gets a charge from Seyfried’s detailed reports, a charge she can’t admit to herself at first. Hers is just one example of desire submerged beneath sterile surfaces, be they the spotless interiors of Moore’s ultra-modern home or the cell phones and computer screens that serve as passion’s intermediaries. It’s rich material for Egoyan, who’s made the intersection of technology and passion a recurring theme, and he films it with a mix of cool reserve and slow-burning lust. Moore’s performance links neurosis to an arousal she can never fully conceal. Her work nicely contrasts with Seyfried’s, whose Na’vi-like eyes never stop looking expressive, even when it isn’t clear what her character’s trying to say, or to hide.
It’s a shame, then, that a film so rich in enigma should ultimately take a turn toward the obvious. Saying too much would give the game away, but after a certain point, Egoyan stops making an artful version of one sort of late-night cable film, and starts making another, the sort that Shannons Tweed and Whirry used to star in—the ones whose titles invariably contained some combination of the words “dark,” “indecent,” and “obsession.” Chloe raises intriguing questions, but discards them in the tawdry pursuit of cheap thrills.