Judge Ryan Keefer has a pretty good one, thank you very much.
Our review of Married Life, published August 27th, 2008, is also available.
Do you know what really goes on in the mind of the person with whom you sleep?
The guy who played James Bond, another guy who won an Oscar playing a toothless redneck, a versatile actress, and a younger compatriot all got together in an intriguing film about love, romance, and murder set in another era. With its DVD release, is Married Life worth eloping for?
Facts of the Case
Ira Sachs (Forty Shades of Blue) co-wrote and directed the film, which was inspired by John Bingham's novel Five Roundabouts to Heaven. Harry (Chris Cooper, Adaptation) is married to Pat (Patricia Clarkson, The Green Mile) and has been for years. However, Harry has grown disinterested and started seeing Kay (Rachel McAdams, The Family Stone), a widowed younger woman. Harry has confided this little secret to Richard (Pierce Brosnan, Die Another Day), and also discussed plans to dissolve his marriage. Complicating things further, Richard has met Kay and started falling for her in his own right. Needless to say, there's quite the little degree of awkwardness in this circle.
I hadn't seen anything to speak of on Married Life ahead of reviewing the film, aside from a trailer that seemed to pretty much give away most of it. But the one thing to gather here is that Douglas Sirk-era inspired films are certainly not dead and buried. The way people in that era seemed to mute their feelings for the sake of social appearance makes for compelling viewing. There's one particular sequence when Harry's plans seem to fall apart. While he appears to want to tell the truth, his face, his heart, and his mind tell three separate stories; watching him try to reconcile them is fascinating.
While scenes like this are compelling to watch, in Married Life they are unfortunately few and far between. Sachs seems to split his time between this and wanting to make a romantic comedy where Brosnan falls for McAdams. That seems to dance into the land of implausibility, but Sachs doesn't let it go. It becomes a mix of the first two ideas, combined with some sort of social commentary on what marriage was, even when the commentary feels a little bit muddled. The movie's story overly complicates what could have been an effective examination of relationships in an era that didn't permit this sort of behavior.
Technically, the 1.85:1 widescreen presentation uses the AVC MPEG-4 codec and looks pretty spiffy. Blacks are solid and provide an excellent contrast, and the level of background image depth and detail is, at times, breathtaking. At other times though, the film grain tends to disappear, and the foreground image detail is a little bit shabby. But overall this Blu-ray is solid-looking. As far as sound goes, the TrueHD soundtrack reproduces everything with nice clarity, though it lacks the immersive sonic experience, and the rear speakers/subwoofer are barely used during the feature. In addition, the dialogue levels are slightly spotty, but the disc does what it's supposed to.
From a bonus material point of view, there's not too much here. Sachs contributes a solo commentary that provides a fair share of information. He goes into recalling information about the production and mentions any relevant challenges that might have come up. Inspirations for the casting choices are covered, and the larger meanings of the film and book are explained too. While it would have been nice to have him bounce his thoughts off somebody else, this is a decent track nonetheless. Three alternate endings (one is slightly convoluted and ridiculous) with optional commentary are included, all of which extend past the ending of the film. A trailer is the only other thing to speak of, on this BD-Live enabled disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There aren't too many things to hang my hat on for Married Life. McAdams is the essence of the eye to production detail that Sachs employs, and she looks striking in the part. However, when it comes to performance, her character and her execution are a little lacking. The performance to watch is Cooper as Harry. The best way I can describe it is that it's reminiscent of William H. Macy in Fargo. The plan Harry tries to unleash falls flat, and to watch him try to hold it up, only to realize the error of his ways, makes for fascinating viewing. His performance is underrated, perhaps because while Brosnan was marketed as the face of the film, Cooper is the real star.
Married Life left me slightly ambivalent. I wanted to enjoy it as much as I did Todd Haynes' similarly themed Far From Heaven, which was the perfect modernization of a Sirk film. And while Sachs wants to follow those footsteps, he doesn't have the resources or the focus to maintain that direction. It also hinders him that Haynes seemed to mine that territory rather holistically. The performances are decent, as is the technical presentation, but the supplements are a little hollow. I'd maybe rent this, if anything.
Sachs is guilty of poor story execution, but he and the cast are not guilty for the production's intent.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Ira Sachs
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