The key sentence in Katrina Onstad‘s profile of director Atom Egoyan in yesterday’s N.Y. Times reads as follows: “A complex, Egoyan-esque meta-narrative has been imposed on the film that was supposed to be [Egoyan’s] most direct” — i.e, Chloe, an emotionally-intimate drama that will play at the Toronto Film Festival. “It’s now the tragic movie about marriage during which one very famous marriage ended so tragically.

Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore in Atom Egoyan’s Chloe.

Onstad refers, of course, to Chloe star Liam Neeson having lost his actress wife, Natasha Richardson, last March when she died from a head injury caused by a bizarre skiiing accident. The tragedy occured as Chloe was nearing completion of shooting in Toronto. Neeson left the shoot for a brief period, saw to his family and his wife’s burial, and returned for a final couple of days of filming.

Egoyan tells Onstad about how Neeson “pulled him aside on the set and told him of Ms. Richardson’s fall. ‘He’d just talked with her, and everything seemed to be okay. But there was a feeling of: ‘You should go.’ And it just changed the course of everything.'”

“First you think, ‘Oh my God’…the human side takes over, and you try to proceed in a way that’s respectful and honorable,” Chloe producer Ivan Reitman tells Onstad. “But there are always one’s financial obligations. Films involve hundreds of lives.” A flood of insurers and completion bonders came on the set, and everyone went over the script, altering sequences for to give Neeson time to attend Richardson’s funeral and whatnot.

“But within days he quietly returned to Toronto in a private plane, undetected by the news media,” Onstad writes. “‘He conducted himself in an extraordinary manner,’ Mr. Reitman recalled. ‘He was under pressure from the sadness of what had happened, and he channeled it into the performance of those two days.'”

“Over the summer Mr. Egoyan attended test screenings of Chloe with audiences in Los Angeles and Toronto, reviewing the feedback with Mr. Reitman. The response has been extremely positive, Mr. Egoyan said; no clarity issues.”

Chloe director Atom Egoyan, costar Amanda Seyfried

I’ve read the Chloe script. It’s an intriguing, mildly erotic, better-than-half-decent thing about a middle-aged wife (Julianne Moore) hiring a young prostitute (Amanda Seyfried) to try and get her middle-aged husband (Neeson) to cheat on her. It’s actually rather good. Written by a pro. The story takes some interesting turns, but it’s on the restrained and earnest side. I don’t recall any hot madness in it, but maybe I read it too quickly.

But I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to having I have a little man inside telling me that Chloe may underwhelm on some level. Part guess, part intuition. Haven’t Egoyan’s films been generally seen as underwhelming in this and that way for the last several years? (I’m not trying to be an asshole but for me The Sweet Hereafter was his last truly stirring film.) Why wasn’t Chloe chosen to open TIFF? Why are distributors being stand-offish? I’m just asking. I have no dog in this fight, although — honestly? — I want to see Chloe because I suspect it may contain certain oblique echoes. Okay, so I’m a tabloid-reading lowlife.

“It will have interesting overtones because it is about how precious a marriage is,” Egoyan tells Onstad. “Maybe it will always be known as the film Liam was working on when that happened. But ultimately we finished the film, and Liam is magnificent in it. Now all we can do is wait and see.”

  • LauraReeling

    This is a remake of a French film called “Nathalie” that starred Depardieu and Fanny Ardent as the married couple and Emmanuelle Beart as the prostitute and the original was a big disappointment.

  • btwnproductions

    Egoyan’s films have pretty much declined in interest since the excellent HEREAFTER. (The more politically engaged ARARAT is a partial exception.) I wouldn’t expect much from CHLOE–it’s been a tough year for movies with one-woman titles (JULIA, CHERI).

  • NotImpressed1Yet

    I had no idea that his most recent movie already came out this year! Just read the NY Times review for Adoration in which it’s called his best movie since The Sweet Hereafter. Has anyone here seen it?

  • MikeSchaeferSF

    I’m an Egoyan fan — loved Adjuster, Exotica and especiallly Hereafter. But I hated Adoration.

  • JD

    I’ve seen this and it’s a fairly credible, Adrian Lyne-style sexual thriller, but with the requisite moments of clumsy acting and heavy-handed scoring that come with any Egoyan film. However, Liam Neeson is a very small part of the movie. I don’t know if they cut his role down in production due to what happened, but I’d go so far to say that his role is somewhat negligible, even though he give s a solid performance. It really is the Julianne Moore/Amanda Seyfried show.

  • DavidF

    Stupid MT – I posted a long thing and it got lost.

    -I also saw it and I’d say Egoyan was spinning the test screen response. That’s not to say it’s BAD – the acting is good for starters – but the audience was not 100% with it. Particularly the ending. Egoyan implies that’s all fixable and it may well be.

    -There are a couple of twists, one of which I got really early but it’s a fairly stylish, well-put-together film. It also makes Toronto look lovely which is rare – especially on film.
    It also begs the question, as Jeff noted, of why this thing isn’t opening TIFF…Unless you count The Love Guru (and I don’t!) it’s probably the biggest set-in-Toronto film to date.

    -I disagree Neeson is “a very small part of the movie” but would concur that it’s Moore and Seyfried who do the heavy lifting.

    -I can understand why Onstad makes the point in her piece but I don’t feel the meta-narrative at all, and didn’t watching the movie. Aside from Neeson and his character both having some kind of spousal difficulty, there’s no there there.

    -I admire and respect Egoyan but can’t say I’ve really connected to his films outside of Exotica and Sweet Hereafter. Chloe is clearly more emotional, engaging and “mainstream” but we’ll see whether that’s a good or bad thing.

  • JohnCope

    Mike, what did you not like about Adoration? I have yet to see it but I too am a huge Egoyan fan from way back and look forward to it. Actually, I should say I used to be a huge Egoyan fan. Other than Hal Hartley I can’t think of another director whose early work impacted me so much and seemed so rich and then hit such a wall.

    Hartley’s descent is ultimately much worse and more fatal but Egoyan has had a very rough decade and, to be honest, I think he’s been in precipitous decline since and including Sweet Hereafter. I was blown away by that one initially but over the years it simply hasn’t held up to the extraordinary accomplishment of his early work–really everything from his superb first film Next of Kin (not the Swayze) through what is probably his masterpiece, Exotica. Of everything since then only Ararat has had sparks of the old inspiration but that one is too full, cluttered and messy to have the kind of coiled, powerful and precisely felt impact of something like Family Viewing or Calendar. Anyway, of all the recent stuff the only one I’m dying to still see (because Where the Truth Lies was almost a fatal blow for me) is his pseudo-home video partial doc Citadel which sounds incredible from all that I’ve heard but that’s precious little and for whatever reason Egoyan seems intent on keeping that one more or less under wraps for now.

  • When you’ve made two films in a row that are as strong as Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, it’s difficult to keep the standards up. I agree that Egoyan hasn’t been on his A-game in a while — I really liked Felicia’s Journey, never saw Ararat or Adoration, and thought Where the Truth Lies was laughably bad — but I’d still rather see Egoyan treading water than most filmmakers swimming vigorously upstream.

  • I actually liked NATHALIE, though I can understand others not liking it, and I did guess the twist at the end. But it does raise some interesting questions about the nature of intimacy in any relationship, and the acting was terrific (granted, I’m partial to Emmanuelle Beart, but still). I still like Egoyan, though I admit WHERE THE TRUTH LIES was disappointing (except for Kevin Bacon). And I’m interested to see Amanda Seyfried go back to playing more “bad girl” roles like she did in MEAN GIRLS and on “Veronica Mars”.

  • MikeSchaeferSF

    JohnCope: I found Adoration painfully simplistic and obvious, with a Big Reveal you can see coming miles away, sub-Crash reliance on coincidences, and a really awful performance by Scott Speedman.

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