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Bait and Switch in a Marriage Trap

Chloe (2010)

Rafy/Sony Pictures Classics

"Chloe" is a slick, accomplished erotic thriller, made with a rich cinematic eye and flair for visual storytelling. Coming from director Atom Egoyan, a master stylist bestowed with a textbook comprehension of the language of film, that comes as no surprise.

Yet, the picture marks something of a departure for the Canadian auteur. It's the first feature he's directed from a script not his own — the writer is Erin Cressida Wilson ("Secretary") — and in it he adheres to a straightforward, accessible linear template that avoids the fractured abstractions of a film such as "Adoration" or "The Sweet Hereafter."

Those changes comprise a mixed bag, of sorts — the movie is entertaining and undeniably sexy, filled with an atmosphere charged by lust and desire. Mr. Egoyan imbues the voluptuous, chic imagery with a voyeuristic sensibility. The sleek, modern homes and offices that comprise the cosmopolitan Toronto setting are filled with grand mirrors and imposing windows; and characters are forever confronting the psychological turmoil of their sexual needs while watching one another through them.

There are certain truthful elements embedded in Ms. Wilson's narrative, which concerns a doctor named Catherine (Julianne Moore), who — suspecting her husband Henry (Liam Neeson) is having an affair — enlists a prostitute named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce him and tell her about it. The libidinous tone is never exploitative; it draws out the importance of the need to feel sexy and wanted in a marriage, to know that your actions matter to your partner.

As the film opens, Catherine has become a translucent presence in her own home. Henry and their son (Max Thieriot) hardly deign to acknowledge her; and she's stuck drifting aimlessly through the lavish decor. Ms. Moore adds the right touch of hesitant vulnerability to her typically ravishing image. She seizes on a fundamental principle of projecting beauty: The less aware of it you seem, the more it resonates. Tension underlies her chemistry with Ms. Seyfried, who adeptly balances Chloe's frankness and mystery. She's upfront and intense in her sexual expressions, but the thoughts and emotions of the person buried beneath the gloss transition from enigmatic to palpable as their bond develops.

Mr. Egoyan successfully evokes a mood of barely suppressed desire, rife with the overarching sense of internal floodgates ready to burst. The picture works because of the seductive, overheated atmosphere and its frankness, its willingness to be sexy with a purpose. "Chloe" does not represent Mr. Egoyan at his most thought-provoking or complex. For all the intellectualizing it commands, the picture boils down to a polished version of a Cinemax skin flick without the endless sex scenes. But it's a welcome reminder of the power of the stimulatory power of suggestive imagery and the arousing qualities of the mind.


Opens on March 26 in the United States and on March 5 in Britain.

Directed by Atom Egoyan; written by Erin Cressida Wilson; director of photography, Paul Sarossy; edited by Susan Shipton; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Phillip Barker; costumes by Debra Hanson; produced by Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck and Jeffrey Clifford; released by Sony Pictures Classics (United States) and Optimum Releasing (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Julianne Moore (Catherine Stewart), Liam Neeson (David Stewart), Amanda Seyfried (Chloe), Max Thieriot (Michael Stewart), R. H. Thomson (Frank) and Nina Dobrev (Anna).


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