Julianne Moore plays Catherine Stewart, a successful gynecologist who is married to a college professor named David (Liam Neeson). After David misses a flight home, Catherine looks through his phone and finds a rather questionable photo. Catherine then becomes consumed with the suspicion that David is cheating on her. After a chance meeting with Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a young escort, Catherine decides to hire her to seduce her husband, ostensibly to determine what makes him tick and turns him on. Chloe accepts the assignment with alacrity, sharing with Catherine the explicit details of her rendezvous with David.
It is at this point that I began scratching my head. If Catherine thought she had proof of David’s extramarital dalliances, why didn’t she just confront him outright? Or hire a private detective to look into his activities? Or go through his things and check credit card statements, emails, and call records to uncover more evidence? Isn’t that what usually happens in real life when women think their husbands are double dipping? Unfortunately, this isn’t the only poor—or poorly explained—choice Catherine makes.
To up the confusion factor, Catherine’s behavior toward Chloe is often inexplicably maternal. She advises her to get checked for STI’s, expresses concern over Chloe’s health simply because Chloe sneezes, and all but kisses her boo-boo when Chloe takes a spill on her bike and skins her knee.
Chloe enjoys being nurtured and obviously views Catherine as a mother figure. This is impressed as she repeatedly tries to give Catherine a hairpin that belonged to her real mother. Telling viewers about Chloe’s mother could have provided this limp story with some interesting wrinkles; however, Chloe’s back-story is never properly explored. How she ended up becoming a call-girl and exactly what drives her obsession with Catherine is left unexplained.
None of the characters are suitably fleshed out, for that matter. We know David is a flirt, but Liam Neeson’s anemic performance would have you believe that his behavior is merely reflexive. The fact that Catherine seems halfway willing to accept that meager explanation makes it even harder to understand her choices. The couple have obviously had problems in their marriage in the past but we never find out exactly what they were or how (or even if) they got resolved.
And what’s up with their son? Michael (Max Theiriot) feels an obvious hostility toward his mother and his trips to a therapist’s couch are alluded to several times, but this character never comfortably inhabits the world of this story. Throwing all of Michael’s footage on the floor and making a few changes to the story would have helped this film immensely.
To make matters worse, the filmmaker’s decision to violate the show-don’t-tell rule further undermined this enterprise. Newsflash! Stories told by unreliable narrators pack more of a punch when the audience initially believes what it’s been told. Moviegoers should never be able to anticipate plot twists.
Properly executed, Chloe could have been an erotic thriller par excellence. Instead, the filmmakers never actually decide what they want this film to be. Is this movie simply a portrait of marriage where the thrill is gone or a glimpse into a career woman’s mid-life crisis? Is it an indictment of prostitution—a trade where workers are purchased, used, and ultimately discarded—or a metaphor for how some mothers collude with father-daughter incest? Maybe this movie is treatise on how sexual passion and jealousy are almost always inextricably linked.
Chloe, manages to be all of these things and none of these things. It is undone by its slack pacing, under-developed characters, depressive tone, and somewhat implausible story. If you are a fan of any of the featured actors, I would suggest that you wait until this film becomes available on DVD. Chloe just isn’t worth the price of full admission.