The term “erotic thriller” conjures up images of sleazy straight-to-video movies full of gratuitous sex, and Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan doesn’t entirely avoid those associations with Chloe, a steamy and sometimes overheated melodrama about a love triangle between a doctor, her college-professor husband and the high-class hooker who comes between them.
That sounds like a recipe for late-night-cable exploitation, but Egoyan and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (working from the 2003 French film Nathalie) take time to develop the characters and invest their relationships with meaning before getting to all the sex and betrayal. The three central performances are also strong, with Julianne Moore anchoring the film as Toronto gynecologist Catherine Stewart, whose marriage has grown stale and who suspects that her husband David (Neeson) has been sleeping with his female students. Rather than hire a private investigator like a normal person, Catherine pays call girl Chloe (Seyfried) to stage a chance meeting with David and see how he responds.
He responds enthusiastically, and soon Catherine finds herself playing a game with Chloe, seeing which one of them will take the ruse further. Chloe’s seduction of David turns into a seduction of Catherine, and the younger woman grows dangerously obsessed with the whole Stewart family (including Catherine and David’s sullen teenage son). The story that built slowly and methodically in the first half of the movie turns lurid and pulpy, but Moore and Seyfried forge such an effective connection that the B-movie turns rarely feel cheap. Seyfried in particular gives an impressive performance that hinges on her ability to convey Chloe’s hidden motives without giving too much away, and she and Moore have genuine heat and chemistry. Neeson’s David is less defined, but the movie is really about the relationship between the two women.
There’s a fairly obvious third-act twist, and the ending is a little over the top. But unlike Egoyan’s last sex-soaked mystery, 2005’s Where the Truth Lies, Chloe retains its allure all the way through. There should be no shame in watching it on cable, at any hour.