Study of Marriage in “Chloe” Faces Real-Life Tragedy

A movie that explores sexual desire within marriage was jolted by real life tragedy with death of star Liam Neeson's wife, Natasha Richardson

“Chloe,” a psychological study of marriage that takes a turn to thriller, is a movie that comes with its own set of baggage.

Adapted from a French original by writer Erin Cressida Wilson and directed by Atom Egoyan, the film stars Julianne Moore as a long-married wife with suspicions toward her professor husband, played by Liam Neeson.

“Chloe,” (Amanda Seyfried) is the young, blonde-locked temptress who comes between them – except she’s not necessarily tempting who you think she is.

“I was struck by the complexities of marriage,” said Wilson, about why she was drawn to the project. “It’s about how, after 10 or 15 or 20 years of waking up every morning with someone, writing grocery lists, kissing each other on the cheek – how do you have hot sex?”

But what’s up on the screen – an attempt to plumb the depths of sexual desire within marriage – was given a jolt of perspective when tragedy struck during the shoot.

Neeson’s wife, Natasha Richardson, died suddenly after a routine fall on a Canadian ski slope earlier this year, while the actor was working in nearby Toronto.

Love, marriage, loyalty, boredom, hot sex – “We were talking about all these things beforehand,” said Egoyan, speaking in a hotel suite at the Toronto Film Festival, where the movie screened to a packed audience of press and industry insiders. (It’s still seeking U.S. distribution.) “It just made clearer all the things we talked about.”

Neeson and Richardson were known as a loving, rather normal married couple with two young children. It made Richardson’s sudden death all the more shocking on a set where issues of loyalty, rather than mortality, were on everyone’s minds.

“The film is about how fragile relationships are,” Egoyan continued. “And how you have to sieze them as they are, and try to stay together.” Egoyan has been married for 25 years, so he knows what he’s talking about. “You fight for that. It’s rare and precious.”

He went on: “What drives Chloe crazy is that they have something so powerful. You know, it’s painful to watch a couple from the outside, if you’re single. What’s between them is so strong. And whatever they go through, there’s a 99% chance they’ll come out ok. They’re unbreakable, actually.”

When the shocking news that Richardson, 45, had died after hitting her head when she took a minor tumble, Neeson – who had rushed to her side – returned to the shoot to finish the film.

“Nothing changed in the movie,” said Egoyan. “It’s a film. You have to keep going.”

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Robert Duvall plays a hermit who stages his own funeral in “Get Low,” another film available for distribution which screened to a standing ovation at the festival.

The role, written by Aaron Schneider, was tailor made for Duvall, a grizzled curmudgeon punishing himself and those around him for an illicit, 40-year-od love.

The bigger surprise is Bill Murray who plays an undertaker and gets most of the laughs in the movie. But Murray, who has neither agent nor manager, is notoriously hard to snag for any project. 

“After we raised the money and we were a go we got in touch with him through his one representative (an attorney),” said Schneider in a chat at the bar at the Hyatt Hotel. “You submit a synoposis, and if he likes the project he calls.”

Murray finally did. He left a message on the voice mail of producer Dean Zanuck asking for a script. And the project, said Scheider, “snowballed from there.”