Directed by: Ira Sachs
Premise: Set in the 1940s, Harry (Chris Cooper), a married man, falls for Kay (Rachel McAdams), a much younger widow. Too cowardly to leave his wife and face the humiliation and scandal that would result, Harry plots to kill his wife while his best friend (Pierce Brosnan) begins his own relationship with Kay.
What Works: In its best moments, Married Life is a character study that gives the considerable acting talents of Chris Cooper a chance to shine. Cooper may be one of the best and most underappreciated American actors working today and he is the best thing about this film.
What Doesn’t: Married Life is marred by a story that’s all anticipation and no payoff. The film is told from the point of view of Pierce Brosnan’s character but he is absent for a lot of the scenes he recalls and the story is just not about him. Instead, the character narrates the action from a great distance with little involvement in the events and nothing is gained from his storytelling. The characters are not just unlikable; they are also uninteresting. Although Cooper shines as the main character, the best role in the film is given to Patricia Clarkson as Cooper’s wife. She is an interesting and unique character, a sexual woman with a mind of her own in a time period usually characterized by women portrayed as prudish and mindless. But after establishing an interesting character, the screenplay to Married Life largely ignores her. By contrast, Rachel McAdams’s character is given the blandest treatment in the story and line after line of awful dialogue. The cinematography of the film varies between competent to sloppy and intrusive and little else about the technical qualities of the film are worth mentioning. The underwhelming qualities of this film are capped by its lack of insight into marital fidelity, sexuality, love, jealousy, or anything else that the story touches on. Married Life tries for a big message at the end but it has nothing to reveal because it does nothing in the buildup to work toward an epiphany.
Bottom Line: Married Life is a pretty terrible piece of work. Like Lions for Lambs this is a film that might have been more successful as a stage play than as a film. It is a continuous parade of let downs that grinds on the viewer until it finally collapses in the conclusion.
Episode: #189 (May 11, 2008)