Friday, March 26, 2010

Chloe (***1/2)

Directed by Atom Egoyan


There's a reason that psycho-sexual films don't do well in the United States. As a country, America is supremely sexually repressed and gawk at the sight of real, sincere perversion being displayed on film. It is not that Americans don't like sex. They love watching Megan Fox walking around in low cut shirts or the latest straight-to-video Van Wilder spin-off. But when it comes to realistic portrayals of human sexuality, they get afraid and they get turned off. Which is why Chloe is a film that won't succeed in this country. Atom Egoyan's latest film does have the benefit of a superb cast, but it's how he portrays the emotional human psyche, no matter how unsightly, that makes the film a unique, interesting watch.

Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) is a very successful gynecologist, but it has been a long time since she has felt particular comfortable with her marriage to David (Liam Neeson). David is a brilliant college professor and rather charming man. He's open and friendly with all his students, particularly the young women. When he intentionally misses a flight home on his birthday, Catherine's insecurities grow even larger. She is overcome by emotional loneliness and paranoia, and that is when she takes notice of a young girl walking down the street outside of her office.

That young girl is Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a superb call girl who's excellence at her job is only surpassed by her precociousness. Catherine meets Chloe in a restaurant bathroom, and they are immediately drawn toward her. When Catherine returns to her seat, she watches Chloe return to hers and it is obvious that she is with a client. Days later, Catherine finds Chloe and asks if she can pay Chloe to do a favor. She wants Chloe to meet David and attempt to seduce him. Afterword, she's to report back to Catherine and tell her how David responds.

What follows is a series of episodes involving sexual intrigue and emotional manipulation. Catherine becomes surprised with just how smart Chloe is and how often she uses that intelligence in her work. Catherine figured that she could ask Chloe for this favor and simply be done with her, but Chloe wants to be a little more than just a service. The situation takes several turns, and every time Catherine tries to put out the situation, it just becomes more inflamed. Chloe knows exactly what to do and say to make Catherine vulnerable, and she uses those skills to her advantage in a very emotionally complex story.

I always admit that I bring baggage to any Julianne Moore film since she's not only my favorite actress, but I've found her to be the greatest actor I've ever watched in cinema (I didn't type that wrong). She is the utmost professional and possesses a screen presence that is unmatched by anyone of her time, aside from Meryl Streep. Surely, she is not as beloved as Streep, and it is because Moore insists on taking braver, sometimes un-commercial roles like the one she has in Chloe. There is nothing about this film that hints at box office success, and I sometimes feel Moore prefers it that way. Because it allows her, even at forty-nine years old, to still take chances and continue to challenge herself as an actress, and she may be the only one who can pull it off, with most actresses becoming obsolete by thirty-five.

So for many, it would be shocking to see her continuing to take on these kind of physically-demanding roles, and sometimes she does fall on her face (the morosely perverse Savage Grace truly wasted her greatness). But in Chloe, they utilize her skill wonderfully. Emotional transparency is her specialty, and Moore reflects sexual insecurity effortlessly in this film. Directed by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter), the script is infused with noir-like suspense, but its totally character driven. Egoyan is a director who has never been shy of taboos, and like in his 1994 film Exotica, he gives the story as much sexual tension as possible, but never allows the events to become gratuitous.

But the greatest part of Chloe is how it lets its characters dictate the forward motion of the film. It slows down when they want it to slow down, and builds when the characters decide that it's the right time. Egoyan always puts his actors in places where they can succeed, and along with Moore, his cast works effectively. As the endearing, occasionally philandering David, Neeson does not have much to do in the film's first half, but unleashes some true gravitas later in the film, as the stakes get higher. Amanda Seyfried, one of Hollywood's best young actresses, does a rather amiable job as Chloe. She exudes sexuality, even if she doesn't always convince you that she's a professional seductress.

I'm not totally sure that Chloe earns its tragic conclusion, but its not a total cheat. This is not a movie that demands a conventional ending, and if everybody ended up comfortable it wouldn't have felt right. The film is a true study of human sexuality, and how it holds a more prominent space in our minds than we think. As I've exhausted throughout, this is not a film for the emotionally insecure and it will rub many the wrong way. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much, but it is more than just a statement of sexual rebellion, it's a real story about real people.

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