Fifteen years later, with the release of Chloe, his 12th feature in 24 years, Egoyan might just have reached the end of his cinematic rope. Exotica, with its no-name cast, complex and elliptical storyline and less-than-a-million-dollar budget earned over $5 million at the box office. Chloe, with its A-list cast of Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, red-hot newcomer Amanda Seyfried, lesbian lovemaking scenes, a $15-million budget and a much more mainstream audience-friendly plot, is struggling with a take of less than $3 million in six weeks despite its wide U.S./Canadian release.
With a favourable, much-ballyhooed launch at TIFF 2009, a promotional budget only a Hollywood heavyweight producer such as Ivan Reitman could bring to the project, and the worldwide, albeit tragic, publicity generated by the untimely death of Neeson’s wife - Natasha Richardson, who died in a skiing accident during its production - Chloe could not have had a better chance of success. Nevertheless, it has tanked and one is inclined to ask why. Has Egoyan lost his creative touch? Or has his audience simply moved on from his “arch, suffocating gamesmanship” as one Toronto critic, obviously not a fan, succinctly put it?
To answer the first question first, Chloe is unquestionably the work of a mature filmmaker and Egoyan’s best film in years, certainly his best since The Sweet Hereafter, which was released way back in 1997, and considerably better than his two previous outright failures, 2005’s Where the Truth Lies and 2009’s Adoration. He has skillfully mastered the art of handling big-name stars and gets a performance from Moore that is reminiscent of Monica Vitti at her enigmatic best in films that Egoyan has acknowledged elsewhere are some of hisfavourites, Michelangelo Antonini’s classics L’Avventura and Red Desert. The production values are first rate, and due to PaulSarossy’s superb camerawork, Toronto comes across as alluring, even exotic (for a nice change).
Understandably the critics were split. The New Yorker magazine was less than kind, calling it an “unsmiling porno-farce” and The New York Daily News called it a “tacky Fatal Attraction for the lesbian set.” But it did receive favourable reviews from the influential Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times and from Liam Lacey in The Globe and Mail, who wrote, “This is a high-toned erotic thriller, handled with style and some emotionally raw scenes, aiming for an effect that’s pleasingly unnerving, if not outright arousing.”
However, the industry trade Playback, which tracks the Canadian box office for Canadian films, reports that Chloe has yet to make $20,000 domestically. Compare this to the $260,000 taken in by Dilpa Mehta’s Cooking with Stella over the same period of time and one is forced to conclude that Egoyan has indeed lost his audience appeal, even in his hometown Toronto, the largest single market for English-Canadian features in the world.
In this regard, it is perhaps instructive to compare the career arc of that other certified English-Canadian auteur, David Cronenberg. Egoyan’s career peak, as it now would appear, is The Sweet Hereafter, which was released 13 years after his first feature, Next of Kin (1984); correspondingly, Cronenberg’s widely regarded Dead Ringers (1988) was released 13 years after his first feature, Shivers (1975). Since Dead Ringers, Cronenberg’s films have been of a consistent high quality (with the notable exceptions of M. Butterfly and eXistenZ), and some critics have argued, rightly I would say, that he is only getting better with age. His two most recent, A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007), are brilliant works of cinematic art and both received Oscar nominations. Egoyan’s post-The Sweet Hereafter films, on the other hand, have been either outright failures (Felicia’s Journey and the aforementioned Where the Truth Lies and Adoration) or only limited successes (Ararat and Chloe).
Cronenberg continues to challenge himself on screen, and one gets the sense that his best work is yet to come. He is 67, and like Clint Eastwood, you can see him making films into his eighties. At 49, Egoyan remains something of an art-house dilettante, albeit a very smart and talented one. The privileged son from an artistic household, he began making films at U. of T. because he couldn’t get his plays produced. He has directed opera, served as the executive producer on the films of Peter Mettler, Guy Maddin and others, and is currently curating an installation for this year’s Luminato arts festival (Solar Breath (Northern Caryatids)-Light Air, a tribute to the late Luminato co-founder David Pecaut). He will undoubtedly continue to direct films on his own terms, and more power to him. Even a former saviour of English-Canadian cinema needs to make a living.
Back to Atom Egoyan's filmography.
Wyndham Wise is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Take One: Film in Canada. Currently, he is a contributing editor with Northernstars.ca and consultant with The Canadian Encyclopedia online. Visit wyndhamsfilmguide.ca.