By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 2010; WE25
Perhaps not since Alfred Hitchcock has a filmmaker married eroticism and dread with the stylish virtuosity of Atom Egoyan. In "Chloe," which Egoyan directed from a script by Erin Cressida Wilson ("Secretary," "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus"), Julianne Moore plays a Toronto gynecologist named Catherine who suspects her husband, David (Liam Neeson), is having an affair. When she crosses paths with a beautiful young woman named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), Catherine immediately sees the perfect opportunity to bait a sexual trap for David -- a plan that will have unexpected, possibly tragic and, for the movie itself, fatally absurd results.
With its alluring tableau of gemlike surfaces and evocative settings, "Chloe" is a treat to look at, with Egoyan taking a fetishistic interest in every little detail, from ladies' shoes to the minimalist multi-windowed jewel box where Catherine and David reside at a companionate distance from one another. (Never has Toronto, of all places, looked so sexy.) But the filmmaker reserves his most obsessive attention for his characters, who here seem to move and talk within a gauzy, dreamlike fog of deceptions and desires.
Recalling her roles in "Safe," "The Hours" and "Far From Heaven," Moore here presents a flawless mask of bourgeois female suffering and repressed need. Like the last film, "Chloe" plays like an homage to 1950s melodramatist Douglas Sirk, recapitulating his love of superficial splendor, layered interiors and lush, theatrical music. As with Sirk, in "Chloe" the protagonist's house presents a narrative in itself, in this case about boundaries that are chronically confused, if they exist at all.
As Moore's younger, freer counterpoint, Seyfried's title character is ripeness personified, a vision of plump lips, couture plumage and an unnervingly limpid gaze. Neeson, who filmed his final scenes for "Chloe" immediately after the death of his wife, Natasha Richardson, bears the stricken look of a man not quite sure if he's the agent of his own fate or the mere object of a more cosmic, incomprehensible plan.
"Chloe" descends into a preposterous third act that, by any measure, qualifies as a disaster. But it's proof of Egoyan's skill that the film works for as long as it does. "Chloe" is worth the time if only for Catherine's impassioned, utterly convincing speech to her husband late in the film when she confronts him in an empty cafe. The moment is riveting and authentic, and conveys a raw-boned truth about women in midlife who are continually told that 50 is the new 30, but wake up every day to a mirror that knows otherwise.
** R. At area theaters. Contains strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and profanity. 96 minutes.