NOTE: This review may contain spoilers. Those who plan to see the film may wish to wait until afterwards to avoid any particular surprises.There’s something oddly amazing about “Married Life”, the new drama from director Ira Sachs, that when the film tails out of the projector you realize that not much has really happened over the course of ninety minutes. Yet the film still works thanks to some truly amazing performances by a four-knockout punch of Chris Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan and Patricia Clarkson. This film would be nothing without them.
Set in the 1950’s, Married Life stars Cooper as Harry, a kind, mild-mannered businessman who is having an affair with Kay (McAdams). His marriage to Pat (Clarkson) appears to be one of safety and not of love, to which leads Kay to have an affair of her own, which Harry is of course unaware of. Harry, meanwhile, wants nothing more than to be with Kay but has no way of divorcing amicably from Pat, as they signed a pre-nup agreement which would ruin him financially. So, what better way than to kill Clarkson off (by way of camera battery fuel)?
Things get even more complicated when Harry’s best friend Richard (Brosnan), comes into Harry and Kay’s situation. Richard quickly falls for the lovely Kay (who can blame him?) and can immediately see what Harry sees in her, which in turn makes Richard want her even more. And if that can’t get any more complex, Richard becomes aware of Pat’s affair and uses that as fuel to get Kay into his life.
The movie gets a lot of mileage out of a single aspirin bottle, as this is where Harry has placed the poison which Pat needs to ingest in order to be killed. Harry thinks she has to have a headache eventually but never gets around to taking the medicine, which sets off even more tension as we wonder if Harry’s way of poisoning her will ever turn out. With all this said, Patricia Clarkson is such a beautiful woman that it would only take someone as extremely gorgeous as Rachel McAdams to sway his attention.
“Married Life” also works quite well thanks to its attention to detail. The film is beautifully photographed to give us the look and feel of a 1950’s adultery drama and the actors perform their dialogue and stature in more of a presentational style of the time. The film’s use of long takes, slow fades and gentle music reminds me a lot of the films of Douglas Sirk.This is not a perfect movie (I still cringe at the thought of an early scene where Cooper kills his adorable Golden Retriever as a “test run” of his particular poison), yet it is a well acted and well made drama where things turn out not quite in the way we expect. It’s because of the well intentioned ending that will no doubt infuriate a few filmgoers who were expecting something different than the idea of “Life goes on, but doesn’t it always?”
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2008 Florida Film Festival series, click here.