It’s fair to say that Chloe follows in the the tradition of movies like Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Poison Ivy, any Paul Verhoeven film you care to remember… You know the type of movie I mean. The pitch writes itself: rich, successful couple have their lives turned upside down by a sexy femme fatale – with a deadly obsession. Chloe follows this formula pretty faithfully, and though it’s not identical to the films listed above, it definitely inherits one of their defining characteristics: it’s really not very good.
Perhaps the main problem is that it’s really not very original. Aside from heavy borrowing of trashy eighties clichés, Chloe is that most unoriginal of beasts, the remake. And there isn’t a great deal of evidence to suggest that the original, a little-seen Gerard Depardieu film called Nathalie, warranted an English language remake. Put it this way – there won’t be an army of die-hard Nathalie fans baying for the blood of those who desecrated the sacred source.
The shaky plot goes as follows: wealthy Toronto couple Catherine (Julianne Moore) and David (Liam Neeson) live a happy normal life. But Catherine suspects her husband of infidelity, and so makes the unusual move of hiring a prostitute, the eponymous Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to attempt to seduce David and see if he reacts unfaithfully. Naturally things go further than they expected and Chloe proves to be more dangerous than anyone imagined, etc…
This is a wearily predictable film, making for often excruciatingly dull watching. Chloe purports to be a psychological thriller but in reality it is neither very thrilling nor particularly psychological at any time. In between Julianne Moore’s incessant weeping, surprisingly little happens. It ambles along at the pace of an centenarian tortoise. Slow pacing is sometimes a movie’s greatest asset; Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation has virtually no dramatic action, focusing entirely on solid characterisation and well written dialogue. Here, the characters are one-dimensional and unlikely to evoke any empathy from the audience. Atom Egoyan’s direction appears to be aiming for suspenseful Vertigo-era Hitchcock but veers far closer to Meet Joe Black-era Martin Brest. And that’s not a good thing.
So with nothing much happening on screen I found my attention constantly waning. Composer Mychael Danna dips into stock thriller music in a valiant effort to make everything seem exciting, but it’s at direct odds with the definitively unexciting action. It’s an odd contrast to be watching a fairly run-of-the-mill scene where two people are chatting in a cafe and you have the crescendo of a sweeping orchestra accompanying the action as if a Cthulhu itself has risen from the seas, destroying everything in its path. Suspense works better with subtlety, but perhaps Egoyan realised his audience needed help staying awake.
And when something does happen, it feels forced and contrived. This being a thriller, there are more than a few twists, but they are either predictable from a distance of several miles, or as implausible as a TV soap storyline. The comparison is apt, as characters display extraordinary levels of inconsistency; Julianne Moore’s character makes some strange and unconvincing choices throughout, and the absence of decent character exposition makes her motives questionable at best. The inevitable tragic conclusion is pointless and horribly strained.
There’s some very capable acting on show from the leads – Moore and Neeson are always excellent value for money, even if Neeson’s much-mocked American accent provokes some unintended cheap laughs. And Seyfried, fresh from bouncing around like a schoolgirl in Mamma Mia, proves her ability to hold screen presence with an often captivating and grown up performance, helped along by her golden-age Hollywood good looks. The movie generally looks pretty, actually, sumptuously shot and rich in colours. Altogether it feels somewhat like an unfunny episode of Desperate Housewives – make of that what you will.
But on the whole it is very difficult to write anything positive about this film. Lost in a whirlpool of its own clichéd undoing, it aspires to the sophisticated film noirs of the fifties, yet never amounts to more than the trashy, sexy nonsense of the eighties. The prevalence of nude scenes will certainly titillate teenage boys, and Neeson’s accent is always good for a chuckle. Otherwise, Chloe can’t be recommended. And on this basis, you probably shouldn’t go out of your way to see Nathalie, either.