At TIFF: Chloe
Hometown boy Atom Egoyan hasn't world premiered one of his film in Toronto in 25 years, back when his debut Next of Kin launched one of Canadian cinema's most illustrious (if spotty) careers in 1984. So it's fitting and truly refreshing that his return home Sunday for Chloe also represented a return to form -- an engrossing, suspenseful, brilliantly acted melodrama loaded with surprises and risks. And that's not even counting the part where Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried wind up in bed.
A remake of French filmmaker Anne Fonatine's Nathalie..., which also premiered in here at Roy Thomson Hall six years ago, Chloe presents Moore as Catherine, a Toronto gynecologist in the partly loveless, thoroughly sexless throes of a marriage to traveling academic David (Liam Neeson). Complicating matters is her troubled son Michael (Max Theriot), whose girlfriend cavalierly sleeps over and struts around the family's shimmering abode in her underwear. When David misses a flight home from New York on his birthday, for which Catherine has organized a lavish surprise party, she immediately suspects another woman. As do we, with Egoyan placing flirty students, waitresses and other temptations in David's orbit (and text-message inbox), which Catherine studies with the paranoid diligence of a wife scorned.
But is she a wife scorned? Naturally there's only one way to find out: Hire call girl Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to see if David will succumb to her seduction. The film settles nicely into the infamous Crazy White Bitch-movie continuum well before the end of the first act, but Egoyan and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson toy with that trope for the duration. Moore wholly inhabits the obsession that accompanies being not just a woman panicking on the brink of middle age ", but also the only one in her immediate vicinity who isn't getting any. It's a toxic chemistry made combustible by Moore's encounters with Seyfried, whom Egoyan visualizes like some kind of moon-eyed monument, her features in sharp, ravishing focus against the other upscale ambiguities of their Toronto surroundings.
Fraught, strained and finally erotic, their respective quests for fulfillment overlap and refract into a tightly-paced battle of wiles. Moore's got the upper hand -- or at least she should, for all the crisis of middle-aged experience suffered here. Seyfried has a semi-refined sexuality, entitling Chloe to both the mysteriousness and calculation required to engineer a master plan that viewers (even those who haven't seen Nathalie) can pretty much spot careening down the track.
But it's some kind of track, with Egoyan once again teasing the soft-core psycho-thriller margins occupied a few years back by his clusterfuck Where the Truth Lies, yet restoring the character nuance of his dark-lust achievement Exotica. That's where the twists pop up, starting with his leading ladies (they're not going to get much help anyway from Neeson and Theriot's underdrawn men). Moore and Seyfried leap together into Chloe's whirlpool of hysteria and manipulation without life vests, their rendezvous revealing more and more until all that's left to discover is how the other is in bed -- which may have been all one (or both) of them wanted in the first place.
Moreover, Chloe is kind of fun. Melodrama isn't known for its timing as much as its volume, but Egoyan and his stars add a little slack to the tension with blips of irony -- a sneeze here, a one-liner there, always in the context of a relationship about to topple. That contrast -- along with Seyfried's compartmentalized evil, rather than pitched theatrics -- anchors Moore's performance, a heartbreaking turn that's one of her best since Far From Heaven. Their shared genre heritage may or may not be coincidental, but I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about history. The same goes for Egoyan, the filmmaker and local hero: I promise not to ask too many questions about where he's been if he just promises to stay around a while.