MARRIED LIFE Directed by Ira Sachs. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel McAdams, David Wenham 12A cert, Cineworld/IMC Dún Laoghaire/ Screen, Dublin, 90 min
YOU DON’T need extraordinary powers of intuition to anticipate that a movie titled Married Life could well be something other than an uncritical celebration of that subject. Just in case you thought otherwise, the film’s narrator, Richard (Pierce Brosnan) breezily declares at the outset: “I always thought marriage was an illness, like the flu or chickenpox, to which I was immune.” Nor do you get any bonus points for clairvoyance if that line does not prompt the suspicion that he will have caught the marital bug by the last reel.
The tale begins when Richard’s best friend, Harry (Chris Cooper) makes the guilt-ridden confession to him that he is planning to leave his wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson) for a much younger woman, Kay (Rachel McAdams).
Harry is so naive that he foolishly encourages Richard to visit Kay, a lonely widow at her suburban home, even though Richard is a serial womaniser played by Brosnan at his smoothest and most urbane. Kindly bringing Kay a collection of books as a gift, Richard is immediately smitten by her sweet-natured personality and platinum blonde appearance.
Married Life is set in 1949. Just in case you don’t catch that in the narration, or if you can’t guess the period from the detailed production design, writer-director Ira Sachs has all the characters chain-smoking as conspicuously as in the early-1960s-set TV series, Mad Men.
Sachs borrows heavily from themes and motifs popular in thrillers from the era in which his film takes place. Despite those abundant film references (to Hitchcock pictures in particular), Married Life feels closer to soap opera than film noir as Sachs entangles the storyline with revelations that prove rather less surprising than he imagined or hoped. His approach is so knowing that the viewer will know what to expect.
Expectations are raised by just a glimpse at the cast list, and the movie benefits significantly from its redoubtable leading players and the apparent ease with which they transcend the limitations of their material.
Clarkson, who is never less than interesting, gives a deliciously playful performance as a woman playing the role of devoted wife. However, her formidable presence is a reminder of her memorable participation in Far from Heaven, a superior, full-blown homage to 1950s screen melodrama treated with passionate affection and virtuoso style by Todd Haynes.
Mr Smooth: Pierce Brosnan in Married Life