Married Life

Movie Information

The Story: A man who wants to marry another woman can't bear to put his wife through a divorce, so he devises a more lethal solution. The Lowdown: A beautifully acted, finely detailed period drama that's certainly worth watching, but finally feels a little insubstantial.
Genre: Noir Drama Comedy
Director: Ira Sachs (Forty Shades of Blue)
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel McAdams
Rated: PG-13

As I was coming out of Married Life, a very nice lady stopped me and said, “I’m guessing you’ll give this one four stars.” I admitted that it would either be that or three-and-a-half stars, noting that the film was perfectly fine, that I enjoyed it and was glad I saw it, but that a year from now I wouldn’t remember a thing about it. I realized later that was an exaggeration, but that two years from now Married Life will very likely become one of those titles I’ll have to pause to even remember having seen.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the film—far from it. Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Rachel McAdams are all excellent. The story’s interesting enough (it would have helped if the trailer hadn’t spelled out what was presumably meant to be a plot twist). The period detail is terrific—even if you do have to wonder about that remarkable movie house that shows Albert Lewin’s 1951 Pandora and the Flying Dutchman in 1949. So what’s the problem? The movie lacks that indefinable something that makes it stick. Put it this way: If 57 years from now someone made a film set in 2006 where the characters went to the movies and supposedly saw Married Life, I doubt I’d immediately know what they were watching—as I did with Pandora and the Flying Dutchman—much less what year it actually came out. (OK, so I’d be 110 and unlikely to even remember if I’d taken my Serutan, but that’s beside the point.) What we have here is four-stars worth of ephemeral pleasure—and that’s good enough.

The movie is a kind of noir-lite affair that might remind you just a little of Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941), but with a different, more believable twist. The tale’s told from the point of view of Richard Langley (Brosnan), a cheerfully amoral fellow who disdains marriage, yet is surprised to find that his very proper friend Harry Allen (Cooper) has grown tired of wife Pat (Clarkson) and fallen in love with another woman, Kay (McAdams). He learns after the fact that the situation was worse than he ever knew. The thought of putting Pat through the pain of a divorce is so unthinkable to Harry that he opts instead to murder her as a kind of mercy killing.

There’s a twist to this that you already know if you’ve seen the trailer, and another twist that you already know if you’ve ever been to the movies. The latter is that Richard will fall in love with Kay; the former I’ll say no more about. And there’s at least one further twist that you very well may not guess at all. What makes the twists work is that they’re all perfectly believable, despite the ironic nature of each of them. They feel like real-life, not like scripting contrivances. Director Sachs, who cowrote the screenplay with Oren Moverman (I’m Not There), imbues the film with bits and pieces of darkly comic dialogue that occasionally move the proceedings into the realm of social commentary, providing a degree of depth to a story that would otherwise be little more than a pulp thriller that never quite takes off. It all adds up to agreeable, nicely adult entertainment that’s satisfying without ever being exciting. Considering the majority of the films in theaters right now, that may be more than sufficient. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and a scene of sexuality.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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