All the elements should be in place for a classic, psycho-erotic suspense thriller in Atom Egoyan’s Chloe: a flirty, attractive husband who never seems to be home, a neglected wife desperate to recapture his attention, and a beautiful young call girl capable of ripping open the couple’s orderly, upscale lives. Egoyan and his excellent cast manage to conjure a credibly sensual atmosphere of hothouse desire (literally, in one key scene that occurs in a steamy, secluded room of an indoor botanical garden). David (Liam Neeson) is a popular university professor, adored by his female students, who’s always jetting off somewhere to deliver a guest lecture, staying late at the office for faculty meetings, or chuckling over private emails. His wife, Catherine (Julianne Moore) is a busy gynecologist who spends her days explaining orgasms and other sexual functions to her patients, but has not felt the love herself in a long time.
When she intercepts a text from one of David’s admirers, she’s sure he’s having an affair. After a chance meeting in a ladies room, Catherine hires working girl Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to discreetly pursue David and report back. This is the part of the story that almost works, thanks to Moore’s skillful portrait of Catherine’s complex need not only to confirm her husband’s infidelity but to participate in his erotic life, even by proxy, as Chloe spins her tales with professional relish. But the suspense angle proves elusive. It’s not too difficult to guess what the story’s major plot twist will be, and by the time it’s revealed—when we expect a further complication— there isn’t any. Part of the problem may be in the approach of Egoyan and scriptwriter Erin Cressida Wilson to their source material, Nathalie, a 2003 French drama by Anne Fontaine. While plot points are similar in both films, Fontaine’s original was shaped as more of a psychological drama about aging, trust, and sexual hunger. Egoyan covers these same touchpoints, but chooses to tack on an implausible thriller element which proves to be his film’s undoing. As all that atmosphere is squandered in an increasingly banal, yet incredible finale, the only thing held in suspense is the viewer’s disbelief. (R) 96 minutes. (★★1/2) LJ
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