The film is ostensibly a simple thriller of deception and suspicion as Julianne Moore’s Anna suspects her husband of sleeping his way across the country to his New York University. Their marriage is a series of pregnant pauses and disappointed remembrances of their early years before their son was born. Their troubles are evident however David shows a total reluctance to acknowledge them. Moore is always worth watching and can imbue even the most tired role with a weight and sensitivity, and in this film she carries a sadness with her that is tangible and affecting. If only the film could have derailed from he obvious path her character is set on.
Neeson too is excellent as the Lotharian teacher and is to be commended for such a potent performance at a time of personal tragedy; he and Moore provide a solid foundation for the film’s patchwork plot to play out. The final number in the triumvirate is the beautiful escort Anna enlists to test her husband’s fidelity, Chloe. Following her star making turn in Mamma Mia and the subsequent nerdy role in Jennifer’s Body Seyfried is allowed to expand her range as the doe-eyed courtesan who handles Anna’s husband with alacrity and Anna herself with an abstruse diffidence that belies her professional demeanour. Something is not right with all or any of them, and the film stirs their lives up as we watch the dangerous chemistry do its work.
In the beginning time is taken to establish the characters and their situation to each other. A surprise birthday party which David misses (deliberately to spend more time with some female students) is the prefect set up and the film builds on the construction of the sexual identity of relationships and the dangers of misunderstanding and fear of abandonment. As an example the surprise party is, at first glance, a lovely touch by Anna but as the motives and angst of the characters unfolds it is seen as a enormous lie, involving all of their friends against David. This is the sort of backwards double-thought logic of the film that pulls you into the collapsing relationship and as it falls it is easy to hold on to see how it ends up.
Once Chloe is in the mix Anna urges her to continue meeting up with David to see what he’ll do with such a pretty and eager woman. Chloe regales her with the increasing intimacy that follows and the scenes between Seyfried and Moore are interesting without being particularly impactful; they play beautifully off each other which, as the story develops, becomes important. I won’t spoil it for you, suffice to say that Chloe’s motives are anything but subtle and the ending is obvious half way through the film. You ask questions that Anna doesn’t and the early work done by Moore is lost as the film fades into a crowd of myriad other genre films.
What I enjoyed as the film went on was playing Spot the Influence and there is a tangible Hitchcock vibe to the film. Elements (and sometime direct replication) of some of Hitchcock’s most effective scenes and devices are used. The double dealing hidden motives of Strangers on a Train, the obsession and the blonde bait of Vertigo and, in one truly memorable moment, a Rear Window echo which causes the forth wall to wobble precariously.
The film looks gorgeous, with luridly sumptuous hotel rooms and luxurious restaurants and homes contrast nicely with the glorious airy Toronto cityscapes. The definition of desire is a rich vein to tap into and helps lift the film above the erotic thriller label and while the level of nudity and sex isn’t overt to a tasteless degree the haphazard and seemingly random sexual choices the characters make isn’t always credible.
Egoyan’s film is psychosexual in every way, and sadly concentrates on the psycho as the film plummets to its unsatisfied climax. What began as a taut, if familiar, adult drama never fulfills its promise and descends rapidly into a confused mix of genres and leaves many of the emotional elements without resolution. Usually this is fine, and I’m all in favour of a film that leaves questions unanswered but this is a thriller that relies on its conventions to lead us to a clearly defined end point, and to have an interesting premise and solid performances result in such a contrived manner is a disappointment.
While Chloe is scheduled for a 2010 release, a date is yet to be confirmed.