Few filmmakers have the gift of Atom Egoyan, the Canadian director of Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, of establishing a mood so supercharged that your internals combust.
Chloe, Egoyan's stylish erotic thriller, stars Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson as Catherine and David, a successful Toronto couple whose 25-year marriage lacks, as they say, passion. Catherine, a gynecologist whose swank clinic resembles a spa and who speaks of sexual ecstasy as an engineer might describe fluid mechanics, suspects that David, her musicologist spouse, is cheating.
In order to test her intuition, Catherine hires Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), a sultry female escort, to see if David succumbs to the young woman's charms - and to report back to Catherine about what turns David on.
In the what's-sauce-for-the-gander scheme of things, Chloe's recitation of what turns David on turns Catherine on.
If this sounds vaguely French, you're right. Chloe is an English-language remake of Nathalie . . ., Anne Fontaine's 2003 marriage a la mode starring Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Beart and Gerard Depardieu.
As my colleague Joe Baltake perceptively observed, the story is more plausible in French, the language of Claude Chabrol and carnality that flows like wine, than in English, which to the native speaker is less suggestive of things that go on below the neck.
In Egoyan's telling, the characters' motives are opaque and their surroundings transparent. From Catherine's modernist house to her atrium office to the greenhouse where Chloe hooks up with David, the characters are on public view.
Their vitrine-like enclosures suggest another saying, the one about those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. All the glass walls, windows and ceilings create a pervasive suggestion that the situation could shatter at any moment. And so it does.
Moore, Seyfried and Neeson each boast sufficient sexuality to power a single movie on his or her own. Collectively, they are the erotic dream team. Moore's tightly wound coiffure and tension suggest a human loaded gun. Seyfried's flowing blond curls and dangerous curves are the definition of a man trap (or woman trap). Neeson's supreme physical confidence and seductive charm (for his character, even the act of ordering wine is a flirtation) heat up the scenes he's in.
There are two questions to ask about a film such as Chloe: Is it erotic? Yes. Is it good? Yes, until it devolves into third-act pretentiousness and preposterousness.
But sometimes we go to movies not for the story but for the erotic promise. On the latter, Chloe delivers.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/