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FRIENDS OR FOES? Julianne Moore (right) hires Amanda Seyfried to seduce her husband in 'Chloe.'

Telling Evidence

Atom Egoyan's 'Chloe' explores seduction and surveillance in the love life of an unsettled couple

By Richard von Busack

WHEN A GREAT filmmaker whose work has never really pleased the masses tries to do something more popular, the director gets more credit if he does something with blood in it than if he makes erotica. Specifically, if Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, The Adjuster) had made up for the poor box-office performance of his recent work with a serial-killer movie instead of Chloe, he would probably get more respect.

Chloe is a remake of 2003's Nathalie ... by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel, The Girl From Monaco). In the original, Fanny Ardant and Gérard Depardieu played the older married couple. Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson fit those two silhouettes nicely for Agoyan.

The plot is completely absurd, but the actors convince you that it can be played seriously. A straight-laced Toronto gynecologist, Catherine (Moore), suspects that her husband is unfaithful. The husband, David (Neeson), is a music professor, significantly introduced to us as he lectures on Mozart's Don Giovanni. Catherine meets a very expensive-looking prostitute, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), in the bathroom of a fancy hotel. The physician decides to hire the sex worker to seduce her husband to see if he can be had. In her opening monologue, Chloe explains herself as a person who is good with words. She later says something believable about how she functions—she finds something to love in the most unlovable. Egoyan bypasses the tiresome reasons why Chloe chose the life; in this economy, everyone feels like a prostitute, anyway.

Chloe takes the case. Reporting to Catherine at cafes like a secret agent, the young girl comes back with stories of everything that she and David did together. The stories affect Catherine on a level she hadn't expected. This lewd Scheherazade hooks her audience; Catherine continues to hire her, and that's when the paid-for companion gets out of control.

Egoyan celebrates Seyfried's rare beauty—the slantendicular emerald eyes, the exotically oval shape of her head. We get both the golden side and the brassy side of Seyfried. Here is Florentine beauty and a bit of Warner Bros. 1933. Egoyan lets Seyfried go large in the last scenes, and the young actress is up to it.

Despite the commerciality, Chloe is clearly an Egoyan film—mysterious, fearless and darkly funny about the marriage. The director is obsessed with the inability to record truth, knowing that no matter what the technology, stories are reflections of reflections. The bit-by-bit way David succumbs (or seems to)—with reluctance, erectile dysfunction and fear of going back to work with soiled clothes—suggests that enough time has passed to turn the Bill Clinton scandal into art.

There will be women who understand Chloe's argument that you can wring more eroticism out of aggression—out of a breached territorial imperative—than you can out of white wine, candles and an unlimited charge card. Having said that, Chloe looks rich and classy: Egoyan frames the action with the glum chic of Toronto's hip restaurants (mausoleums against the cold), a tiny Edwardian midtown hotel just made for a quick one and the polished wooden box of mirrors Catherine and David live in. Chloe's eroticism and implicit satire of the sweet life rival the unfaithful wife's monologue in Godard's classic Weekend.

CHLOE (R; 96 min.), directed by Atom Egoyan, written by Erin Cressida Wilson, photographed by Paul Sarossy and starring Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried, opens Friday at the Del Mar.

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