The thriller genre seems to be lurching through a bad patch going by the recent ones I’ve seen (with the glaring exception of the superb Animal Kingdom). Polanski’s The Ghost was a creditable effort (is he even capable of making a bad film?), but as is endemic these days it seems, had some gaping plot holes. The Disappearance of Alice Creed started well, but fell apart. The Girl Who Played With Fire had a promising beginning but collapsed into schlock. The Killer Inside Me I hated for its gratuitous violence, its misogyny, its failure to give any insight into the psyche of the psycho-killer lead character, and its stupid ending.
I wasn’t expecting much of Chloe. Not only is it another thriller – it’s an ‘erotic’ thriller. Fark. That’s usually not good. Not in my experience, anyway.
But never let it be said that I am not prepared to give cinematic eroticism a fair go. Hope springs eternal. And the trailer promised some quality ogling of Amanda Seyfried in various states of undress. Last time I saw Ms Seyfried it was in the TV series Big Love, as a very cute 16 year old fundamentalist Mormon virgin struggling with her burgeoning sexuality – my, she’s grown up! (Yes, call me a perve and I’ll answer). I figured the least I could do was take one for the teeming hordes who follow my movie reviews, and go along for the ride…
Well. Well well well. Me of little faith. Not only is this the second best thriller I’ve seen this year – it’s genuinely and intelligently erotic! Yes! This couldn’t be Hollywood, could it?
Actually, no. Fully financed by a French production company, it’s directed by the acclaimed Armenian-Canadian indie filmmaker Atom Egoyan, and shot in Toronto (a good decision – the city provides an atmospheric and at times quite beautiful backdrop to the drama). The excellent screenplay is the work of US screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson, and is based on the 2004 French film, Nathalie.
There are critics who unfailingly pour scorn on any trans-Atlantic remake of a Euro film – I’m not one of them. In fact, that attitude annoys the hell outta me. Sure, some remakes are shite, but some are better than the originals. And what’s with these snobs who privilege Continental over Anglo cinema just cos it’s Continental (and I have to say, francophiles are the worst). IMO there’s a lot of pretentious, dreary, slow-moving pseudo-arty crud that comes outta Europe for every great piece of cinema – France certainly included. Besides, much of the time, I haven’t seen the original – and so what? Assess every film on its own merits, I say…
Ah, that’s better. Was sitting on that little rant for a while. Blame The West Australian film reviewer Mark Naglazas and his francophilia, and all those pissweak, boring SBS Euro movies I’ve yawned through thanks to some dick in the TV magazine awarding them 5 stars.
OK, back to Chloe. The synopsis: Catherine (Julianne Moore) and David (Liam Neeson) are a professional married couple with a musically talented teenage son, Michael (Max Thieriot). They live in a stunning house featuring a lot of glass surfaces (symbolism alert lights flashing, yes). Their apparently ideal upper middle class life in Toronto is disrupted when Catherine begins to suspect David of infidelity. A chance encounter between Catherine and an escort, Chloe, sets off the dramatic domino stack. She hires Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to test David’s fidelity, initially by flirting with him at his favourite cafe, then with a full-on seduction routine.
Chloe’s detailed reports on David’s responses have an unexpected effect on Catherine – her sexuality is revitalised, despite her reflex jealousy at picturing David with the younger, beautiful and sexually adroit Chloe. Further, there is a charge between Chloe and Catherine that was never part of the plan – not Catherine’s, at least.
The tension is ratcheted up as the dynamics of the relationships change, complications arise, hidden agendas emerge, and the ménage à trois morphs into something else – a deadly game of manipulation and deceit that is no longer in the players’ control, with dangerously high stakes.
There are all sorts of clever ironies at play here: the deceiver becomes the deceived, the manipulator the manipulated, and through Chloe’s reported seductions, Catherine reconnects with her husband and her sexuality. But there is a price beyond the fees she pays Chloe – one with a tragic and almost impossibly child-like and poignant naivete and yearning for love at its core.
Amanda Seyfried brings great sensitivity to her role as the enigmatic, disturbed and – it has to be said – sexy Chloe, but the eroticism of this movie is nothing to do with graphic sex and rampant nudity. Like all true erotica, the power comes from suggestion.
Yeah, I got to glimpse – though not ogle – Amanda with her clothes off, but there’s no gratuitous lingering lens work, and the most erotic parts of the movie are Chloe’s verbal descriptions to Catherine of her encounters with David – and Catherine’s voyeuristic responses.
It would be selling the film short, though, to brand it as erotica. Titillation is but a minor element. It’s an intriguing ride from beginning to end, a good – not quite great – thriller (mercifully, without obvious plot flaws), and an astute study of the often destructive power of perception over truth in the mercurial world of human relationships.
If the French ‘original’, Nathalie, is any better, it must be pretty bloody good.
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