A remake of the 2003 French film Nathalie, Chloe also marks a rare effort where director Atom Egoyan isn't the film's screenwriter, and the film isn’t weighed down with his usual fetishes involving videotape & voyeurism, and a meandering pace.
Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus) took the basic tale of Nathalie - a wife engages a prostitute to lure her cheating husband into an affair so as to enjoy some revenge by catching him in the act - and made some major alterations which pushed the drama into the erotic suspense realm about obsessive love.
In the original film, Catherine visits Nathalie at a men's bar, and both engage in increasingly graphic discussions of the husband's escapades, but the dialogue is less about provocative sexual behaviour and more about the wife trying to understand her husband's philandering through sexual indulgences, and perhaps finding a clue towards amending the couple’s disintegrating marriage.
Nathalie also becomes Catherine's personal confident, and from their adult conversations, the pair develop an odd friendship: Catherine ends up meeting Nathalie's mother, for example, and we learn that by day, Nathalie works in a hair salon. That background also makes Nathalie a compelling character, whom Catherine eventually assists by subsidizing her rent when Nathalie runs into financial difficulties.
The finale in Nathalie is fairly straightforward: after Catherine forces a confrontation between herself, her husband and Nathalie in a restaurant, the film is de facto over; Catherine simply returns to her husband, and the couple take first steps towards reconciliation.
The reconciliation remains intact in Egoyan's Chloe, but the remake takes a different turn once the truth about the husband's affair with Chloe is exposed: the revelation and positioning of the characters is identical to the original film, but screenwriter Wilson makes use of the subtext she's been dropping throughout the first half in which both women have been developing a gradual romantic interest in each other.
Their attraction ultimately results in a graphic seduction scene, which Chloe later uses to emotionally blackmail Catherine into further contact, evoking unsubtle shades of Fatal Attraction (1987). (In Nathalie, Catherine has a willing affair with a younger man out of revenge and for pure gratification; that liaison is encouraged by a womanizing family friend who, in Chloe, disappears after a handful of scenes.)
With the business relationship over, Chloe seeks to start a straight romance, and when Catherine spurns her advances, she uses Catherine's rebellious teenage son as an intro into the family's home. (In Nathalie, the son is an adult who periodically visits his parents, but he has few scenes in the film.) Borrowing elements from a pulpy erotic-thriller, Chloe befriends the son, and eventually uses his interest to gain entry into the house. The two have sex which is perfectly timed for Catherine’s arrival, and the three characters are forced into a confrontation where Catherine must ‘choose’ between her family and the strumpet.
Egoyan's handling of the pulp material is actually quite respectable, considering the cheapness of the finale, and he punctuates the film with a closing shot that’s brilliantly simple in the way it clarifies any lingering doubts as to whether Catherine was mistaking teased into an affair, or was an active participant.
At the very worst, Chloe ends up being no less than a sleek suspense-thriller with a subdued but perceptibly eerie atmosphere where every character seems to be harboring some dark secret. In Nathalie, Fontaine uses dialogue and the audience’s imagination to envision scenes of betrayal and lust, whereas Egoyan films those moments, be they real or a character’s pure paranoid fantasy gone into overdrive.
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Much like Nathalie, Chloe has striking locations which add colour to the drama, and function as tertiary characters. Egoyan’s use of upscale homes, the Royal Ontario Museum, local bars, clubs, and trendy coffee shops is superb, and they transform Toronto into an unusually classy city, even during the glum winter months. (See page bottom for links to additional online articles)
Mychael Danna's score is very impressionistic, and features one of his most haunting character themes. The performances, particularly Amanda Seyfried, are solid, but Chloe lacks the genuine psychological intrigue and mature characters central to Nathalie's success. The suspense tropes don’t make Chloe a cop-out, but by redesigning the original drama into a mashed up erotic suspense-thriller, it's a missed opportunity to depict adult themes within a Canadian setting.
Sony’s Blu-ray includes a sharp transfer, an audio commentary track, and a making-of documentary where the filmmakers discuss the development of the script, and the use of Toronto locations.
There's also a deleted scenes gallery, of which the first takes place at the Rivoli club where Chloe talks of leaving home, and Catherine explains her discovering her son was having an affair with an older woman; and the second scene is a longer version of the scene where Chloe coaxes the son into letting her into the family’s house: the two sit for a moment and discuss the son’s affair before they go upstairs and have sex. Of the pair, the first should’ve been kept in the final cut because it explains why the son hates his mother so vehemently; without that information, it just appears that Catherine’s son is a complaining brat in need of a swift kick in the pants.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan