I was going to see Shutter Island again yesterday, but I instead saw this film because it will no doubt be gone from my town after a week, due to its unmarketed, arthouse type lack of money-making status (two other people showed up as the previews were ending to the Saturday matinee I attended). I guess Atom Egoyan isn’t much of a draw here in the States. He used to be one of the better known Canadian directors (perhaps even the most celebrated in the 90s, before people like David Cronenberg and Guy Maddin started getting rightfully noticed for their awesomeness). If you haven’t seen The Sweet Hereafter, you should stop reading and watch it now.
I wasn’t going to write about this movie, because I’m not sure I want people to get the wrong impression. I usually only write about movies I like, or think I will like if I think about more. The longer I think about this film, the less I liked it (Since I knew most of what was coming, it’s hard for me to judge how well crafted it is, though). It is being billed as a sexually provocative film (you would think that would make it some money), but knowing Egoyan is the director should make some expect a bit more than some sort of Emmanuelle-type picture, though the plot sounds a bit trite: a woman (Julianne Moore) suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of cheating on her, so she hires a prostitute/whore, depending on your classification of the difference (Amanda Seyfried), to attempt to seduce him in a series of encounters. The women meet several times to discuss the results (in all their so-called lured detail) and….stuff happens.
The film differs in some rather important details from its original source; the French film Nathalie… (2003). It interestingly expands upon and makes blatant what was only ambiguously hinted at in the original (maybe this had more to do with the cultural differences than the choices/abilities of the writers, but more on that later). One can choose to see this lack of subtlety as a fatal flaw of the film (which I was originally inclined to do), but as with any comparison of any two films, they are ultimately separate entities with separate agendas.
Knowing this was an Egoyan film was really enough for me to see it, though I was intrigued by his high-profile, non-Canadian cast here (though the film is set in Toronto). It is no surprise that Julianne Moore is drawn again to yet another masochistic role that blurs the line between bad taste and perversion (after this and Savage Grace one has to wonder what she sees in these roles exactly). She is refreshingly good in this film (personally preferable to the rather blank Fanny Ardant in the original), without a silently crying, frozen/hysterical face in the entire film (when she does this it really annoys me). Amanda Seyfried takes the title role (originally played by the similarly, beguilingly odd-faced Emmanuelle Beart). I don’t want to be too harsh on the rising starlet, but she is clearly no match for Julianne Moore in gravitas. While one could argue that this unequal screen balance is part of the intent between the two characters, I think it might just be a matter of their incomparable level of experience. Neeson is a bit of a cypher; playing the rouse to her game, left with the thankless job of simply reacting to everything (his French counterpart Gerard Depardieu clearly a different character in a different time and place).
This change of the male role is a curious one and I can’t help but think it has some sort of gender commentary to go along with it. Though Egoyan is male, the English-language screenwriter, Erin Cressinda Wilson (writer of the also-dubbed ‘psychosexually provocative’ Secretary), is obviously a woman. I was wondering about any noticeable differences in the ramifications of a woman directing the original and a man directing this version, but I’m not sure if that really even matters. Does Egoyan’s choice of making the husband a seemingly more sympathetic character mean anything? Does his choice of revealing Chloe’s motivations less discreetly or expanding upon her interactions with the couple’s family mean anything different? The original was also clearly more class-focused in the motivations of its title character, while the latter completely ignores any reference to Chloe’s background. Ultimately, I think Egoyan leaves Chloe without any sort of recognizable humanism, forcing Seyfried to pick up the slack in the emotion department (which isn’t quite fair to the actor, methinks).
This is obviously not on par with Egoyan’s Exotica, which has similar story themes and structure, though it is much more reigned in than the mess of Where The Truth Lies (which attempted to be much more provocative as its original NC-17 rating attests to).
I’m not sure what else to say without ‘spoiling’ the film. Knowing what happened in the original and then seeing it play out in the extended way that it did in this film is both interestingly welcome and disappointing, if that makes any sense. Egoyan auteurists will want to check this out and those infatuated with more than Seyfried’s face will not be disappointed, to put it discreetly. Um, yeah.