Sony // 2007 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 27th, 2008
Do you know what really goes on in the mind of the person with whom you sleep?
"I don't know what I'd do if you ever left me."
Harry (Chris Cooper, Breach) is a good man. The year is 1949, and Harry is a successful businessman who is respected by his peers. He is kind, considerate, and polite. Harry is married to Pat (Patricia Clarkson, Far From Heaven), who is a loving and affectionate wife who seems to be particularly dependent on Harry. However, Harry thinks he has fallen in love with another woman. The woman is named Kay (Rachel McAdams, Red Eye), a beautiful young blonde. However, Harry is torn apart inside. He loves Kay, but he doesn't want to hurt Pat's feelings.
Harry's best friend is Richard (Pierce Brosnan, The Matador), a wolfish fellow who has a tendency to change girlfriends every two weeks. Harry tells Richard of his dilemma and finally asserts that he is going to leave Pat and marry Kay. Richard is a little skeptical of Harry's plan but takes an aggressive stand against it when he meets Kay. Richard thinks Kay is an absolutely wonderful woman and begins attempting to think of a way to have her for himself.
Harry tries to tell Pat of his plans, but when she has an emotional breakdown, he quickly reassures her that she must have misunderstood him. He simply can't bear the thought of hurting poor Pat, but he has to find a way to be with Kay. Suddenly, the perfect solution hits him. He'll murder Pat. He'll find a way to do it simply, a way that won't cause any mental or physical anguish. It will be best for everyone, he reasons. Will Harry pull off this "mercy killing," or change his mind before he takes the life of his loving wife?
This film is right up my alley. Married Life supplies an intoxicating cocktail of elegant wit, Douglas Sirk-inspired melodrama, and Hitchcockian suspense filtered through the particularly snappy costume and set design of the late 1940s. Regardless of what you think of the film itself, it's simply wonderful to look at. I'm not sure that 1949 always looked like what is presented in this film, but surely sometimes it did, and Married Life captures the era at its sharpest. Well-dressed men and women sit around in well-furnished rooms and smoke cigarettes. I don't smoke, and I don't approve of smoking, but I love cigarettes in the movies. It is a prop that an actor can use in so many ways to say something without actually speaking. Additionally, cigarettes provide that wonderful smoky haze that adds a terrific sense of atmosphere to a room.
Enough about that. What about the film itself? Married Life is an engaging and well-crafted character study that mixes comedy and suspense quite nicely, with a whiff of melancholy hanging over everything. The film isn't quite as tightly crafted as a Hitchcock suspense flick (not many movies are), but it does seem a little warmer than your average Hitchcock film. The people in this film are all sympathetic characters, even the potentially murderous Harry. They all have secrets, they all make mistakes, but we understand why they feel the way they do. The movie is billed as a comedy, but most of the laughs here are the sort of nervously uncomfortable laughs that come when you catch someone you know doing something embarrassing. The film is funny, but don't see it if you're looking for a good time. The movie is likely to provide more fingernail-biting than giggling.
The characters are refreshingly complex, and the relationships between them are not as simple as we expect. Yes, Harry has fallen in love with a younger and prettier woman. However, he's not in it for the sex. In fact, we never see a single sexual encounter between the two of them. He's in the relationship because Kay provides him with doting affection, which he so craves. Though Pat is a very nice woman, she feels that the only way to express love is through sex, and Harry disagrees. Meanwhile, Kay is enthusiastic about the idea of "nursing Harry to happiness," but she has her own physical cravings, which Richard is more than eager to fulfill. That's only the beginning; these characters are spun through a series of developments that are both surprising and believable.
The four key performances are all excellent. Chris Cooper is always good, and here he turns in yet another perfectly defined character. Somehow, he manages to convince us that Harry really is planning to murder Pat out of the goodness of his heart. Patricia Clarkson stands right alongside Joan Allen as one of the actresses who has mastered the art of playing simple characters who have something bubbling below the surface, and does so again here. Pierce Brosnan continues to re-invent himself in his post-Bond years, and here turns in a performance that ranks alongside his best work in The Matador and The Tailor of Panama. If there's a weak link, it's Rachel McAdams as Kay, who doesn't quite manage to seem as well-developed as the other characters. Still, this is tough competition, and McAdams does a decent enough job with the part.
The transfer looks pretty clean and sharp, with reasonably deep blacks and well-balanced colors. Sound is fine, with Dickon Hinchliffe's champagne-smooth score coming through nice and clear. Extras include a solid commentary track with director Ira Sachs and three alternate endings. Wow, are they alternate endings. The first ending runs ten minutes and essentially throws these characters into a compressed version of the third act from Million Dollar Baby. I'm not joking. It's every bit as bad as it sounds, thank goodness they cut it out. The second runs seven minutes, and is just a slightly shorter version of the Million Dollar Baby ending. Finally, we have a two-minute alternate ending, which is okay. The actual ending of the movie is far superior to any of these three.
Some viewers may grow frustrated by the fact that the film does not commit itself more wholeheartedly to a particular tone. It includes elements of Sirk melodrama, but doesn't take them too far. It offers plenty of Hitchcock-style suspense, but is frequently relieving your nerves with bits of light humor along the way. I think the movie works nicely as it is, but I imagine some viewers will become a little exasperated with it's refusal to plunge full-speed into any particular area.
Married Life is an above-average character study that boasts some very fine acting and an intelligent script. It's an easy recommendation.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Three Alternate Endings
* Commentary w/Ira Sachs