A sort of adult fairy tale, in which the real trouble starts after 20 years of marriage, Atom Egoyan’s Chloe is posh, cool, and never less than obvious. Work for hire, the movie was adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson from Anne Fontaine’s marital thriller Nathalie . . . , a sophisticated Gallic shrug-fest hailed by some for featuring an adulterous triangle unimaginable in an American movie. Accordingly, Wilson and Egoyan lower the rent and up the action ante, pushing the story’s fatal attractions while transposing its erotic shenanigans to glamorous Toronto—environs that are second nature to anyone familiar with the local film festival where Nathalie . . . had its world premiere in 2003.
Successful gynecologist Catherine (Julianne Moore) suspects, not without reason, that her husband, the distinguished professor David (Liam Neeson), is having affairs with his students; in lieu of a detective, she hires the fresh-faced young hooker, who calls herself Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), to entrap him. A movie without a subtext, unless it’s the director’s identification with the pay-for-playgirl, Chloe begins by languidly showcasing its eponymous subject in her underwear, and introduces Catherine’s clinical discussion of clitoral orgasm as David enthralls a lecture hall full of undergrads with his enthusiasm for Don Juan. Subsequently dining with friends in a downtown hotel, Catherine and David play “spot the hooker”—although the hooker has already spotted them. Ah, Chloe—qu’est-ce que c’est? Devil? Angel? Before long, the enigmatic child is giving Catherine a detailed account of her relations with David. (In an astute PR maneuver, Seyfried reportedly banned her father from seeing the movie.)
The story doesn’t make much sense, but the client is turned on, Moore miming arousal with the wide-eyed passion of a silent movie queen. Asked by Catherine how she does her job, Chloe explains that she tries “to find something to love in everybody.” I take that as a message to the critic. Egoyan seems to have accepted this assignment in the spirit of Douglas Sirk directing soft-core porn: Chloe puts quotation marks around its tantalizing nudity, caressing camera moves, and rhapsodic music. (When Catherine rushes to her son’s piano recital, he’s banging out “The Moonlight Sonata.”) The grotesque finale aside, it’s all too soigné to be truly risible, but, thanks to Egoyan’s trademark mix of detachment and prurience, the fun is more cheesy than queasy.