Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review: "Chloe"

"Chloe" is a superbly acted, expertly made sex thriller. It stars Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson as a married couple experiencing a case of the middle-age blahs. It's a treat to watch these skilled veterans executing their craft, as their characters live together without really communicating, their emotional estrangement almost a physical presence between them.

But the film's real punch to the jaw is Amanda Seyfried in the femme fatale title role. The nice girl from Allentown who has been defined by her all-American parts in "Dear John" and "Mamma Mia!" astonishes us with a highly sexualized turn as a prostitute who becomes obsessed with her client.

A few months ago, Seyfried played straight woman to Megan Fox in "Jennifer's Body." With "Chloe," Seyfried's screen sizzle makes the overheated Fox seem like an ice queen.

Moore plays Catherine, a successful gynecologist who would seem to have it all. She lives in a sleek modern Toronto mansion, has a handsome music professor husband in David (Neeson) and a talented musician son, Michael (Max Thieriot).

But little cracks in her facade hint at deeper fault lines. She's annoyed at the way David flirts with seemingly every younger woman he meets. When he misses his plane and fails to show for the elaborate birthday party she spent months planning, Catherine suspects he's having an affair.

Happening upon Chloe, an alluring young courtesan, Catherine hires her to throw herself at David. At first she just wants to see if her husband will respond to temptation. But as Chloe's meetings with David continue -- and she regales Catherine with tales of their increasingly passionate encounters -- the film wades into some seriously kinky territory.

Devastated by the realization of her husband's adultery, Catherine starts to rely on Chloe's stories for her own sexual satisfaction. There's a scene where Catherine fantasizes about the two of them together while she pleasures herself in the shower.

For her part, Chloe seems to feed upon this erotic tension. Soon she's showing up unannounced at Catherine's office, acting as if they're friends. When Catherine is most vulnerable, Chloe becomes the aggressor, leading to some scenes that ... well, let's just say that I'm sure the MPAA gave them a good look-see.

Seyfried shows flashes of coquettishness, followed swiftly by an almost shark-like quality as she hones in on her target. At one point Catherine asks her how she can focus so on a client, with not just her body but the entirety of her person.

"I try to find something to love in everybody. Even if it's a small thing," Chloe says.

Based on a French film, "Chloe" was written by Erin Cressida Wilson, who has explored sexual territory before in "Secretary" and "Fur." The film was directed by Atom Egoyan, who doesn't shy away from depicting how people can use sex as a weapon, or as a means of self-deception.

There's one scene where Chloe finds pleasure by staring at some of Catherine's stiletto heels that elicits a frisson as taboo as anything you're likely to encounter with a mainstream film.

"Chloe" suffers somewhat from a predictable plot. The film builds to a big reveal near the end that sharper audience members will see coming a ways off. But it's a daring, splendidly acted portrait of two women who are not so unlike as one of them might like to think.

3 stars

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