Friday, September 11, 2009

DVD Review: Married Life

Ira Sachs’ Married Life seems at first like a perfect mixture of Douglas Sirk and Alfred Hitchcock. But then something funny happens towards the end of the movie…there’s happiness. Well that doesn’t sound too much like Hitch, and it definitely doesn’t sound like Sirk. Married Life is an interesting film. I’m not sure if I love it or if I’m totally indifferent towards it. I imagine this is how a lot of people speak of Sirk’s films: so cold and detached – unwilling to compromise its purpose for the sake of conventions. I may not be sure about the movie as a whole, and what it has to say or how it says it, but I am sure that the film has multiple scenes that are interesting enough to seek out, and boasts two great performances by Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson.

We get a hint early in the film that this film takes place in the 40’s/50’s as Cooper’s Harry asks his best friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan) out to lunch. At lunch they smoke and drink. Yup, this is definitely a different era, and director Sachs gets a real sense of authenticity with the way he shoots his film – evoking those noir pictures of the 40’s, and the melodramas of the 50’s – and also the art direction is superb here as the Diner’s and cabins and cars are all beautiful to look at.

Harry has it all planned out…see he’s leaving his wife Pat (Patricia Clarkson) for a younger blonde siren, Kay, played by Rachel McAdams who is channeling Kim Novak with her looks, here. Richard is smitten from the onset, and what you have here is a classic storyline filled with jealousy, adultery, and yes even attempted murder. The way these are handled, though, are subdued and delicate. This isn’t a crazy noir where the attempted murder takes precedence over the rest of the story; no, Sachs takes his time with everything, focusing more on demeanor, mannerisms, and the courtesies of the day. Those are the things that slow down Harry’s attempt to kill his wife (the only thing that will truly allow him and Kay to be happy together), and the time it takes for the events to unfold is time where new angles pop up, and harsh truths are revealed.

The acting is first-rate in the film. Chris Cooper again proves that he’s one of our best actors working today. He doesn’t have the "it" factor that a lot of casting directors are looking for say in a Clooney or Pitt, but I challenge anyone to point to someone more consistent than Cooper. With is role as Harry, always teetering between being the well-mannered businessman and the romantic, he again creates another character who seems on edge throughout as he juggles all of the issues and schemes in his life (he did the same thing in 2007’s brilliant Breach, Cooper’s best performance).

Pierce Brosnan is just getting better and better since retiring from Her Majesty’s Secret Service. His roles in The Tailor of Panama and especially in the brilliant and criminally underrated The Matador show an actor who seems to free from what is expected of him…he’s been unleashed as an actor and the results have been fascinating characters. There’s nothing really “fantastic” about Richard, but there’s something about he way he ushers us through the story via his narration where we’re never quite sure until those final moments whether or not this man is a reliable narrator.

The two female roles in the film are good, too. McAdams plays the bombshell well as she has the perfect look for this kind of role where the red lipstick just pops off of her lips. The real stunner though is Clarkson. She plays Pat as the seemingly loyal housewife, but as we know now from shows like Mad Men, if there was one thing to understand about housewives from the 50’s it’s that they weren’t as inept as the husbands thought they were, and often times were one step ahead of their cheating husbands. There are some secrets that are never quite fully handled in the film, and the way Clarkson goes about fooling Richard and Harry is something to behold. Just a wonderful performance.

The look of the film goes for that noir look where women wear lots of red lipstick and men walk the streets in fedoras. I was never doubting that what I was looking at was a brilliant film; however, the film is a meager 100 minutes – a perfect length for the type of melodrama its claiming to be – and I just wish there would have been a little more that was stated. Sometimes it can be a bad thing to be all understatement, and this film is so reserved, that if you’re not ready for it, 10 minute chunks of the film will fly by without you even noticing.

I like films that rely on the viewers attentiveness…I mean I adore Jean-Pierre Melville’s films, but there is also a downside to that, and really the characters in Married Life didn’t interest me enough to keep my attention during certain stretches of the film. These are very typical melodramatic character archetypes we’re dealing with here, and although I loved some of the subdued, cerebral moments and understated attempts at dark humor; and even though I adored the performances (especially Cooper who steals the whole thing with a scene towards the end) – I was never really in doubt of what was going to happen by the time the film ended. It lacks the melodramatic punch Far From Heaven had (and Sachs probably isn’t trying to make that kind of melodrama, so I could be off with that statement) and really loses its way in the middle. There seems to be a lot going on beneath the surface of this film, but I just didn’t care enough to go excavating for it. Check it out on cable, though, if nothing else to see four great actors at work surrounded by great art direction.


  1. he’s been unleashed as an actor and the results have been fascinating characters.

    But see "Mamma Mia!"

  2. Oh...boy...

    You're right. I refuse to believe that exists, though. So...there! Haha.

  3. Your statement here sums up my feelings upon watching this film some years ago in the theater. I liked it yet there was something that stood in the way of saying so. It is as if Sachs held back instead of going for a full-blown dark, dark black comedy. The four leads are all excellent and Cooper and Clarkson are outstanding. The film is worth seeing for no other reason than their performances and the excellent ‘50s atmosphere. Insightful review.