Married Life, a new film from director Ira Sachs
, feels very much like a film from a different era -- a fact that's mostly enjoyable, with a few minor exceptions. Set in the late 1940s, presumably in and around New York City, Married Life tells the story of Harry Allen (Chris Cooper
), a wealthy businessman who one day confesses to his old friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan
) that he intends to leave his wife and take up with his mistress. Complications arise when Harry decides the only way out of his marriage is to murder his wife, while at the same time his pal Richard goes behind his back and courts the affection of his mistress.
What's pleasurable about this film, and the way the story unfolds, is its elegant simplicity. No more than ten minutes into the movie, Sachs and his co-screenwriter Oren Moverman have skillfully limned each of the main characters' hopes and ambitions and set in motion the levers of conflict that drive the story forward. Harry wants to experience the type of romantic love that has long since vanished, if it ever existed, from his marriage with Pat (Patricia Clarkson
), while she, for her part, longs for greater passion and the adolescent thrill of sex. Kay (Rachel McAdams
), Harry's mistress, seeks true love for the second time after losing her husband in World War II, and Richard, a womanizing bachelor, hopes to discover the ability to form an emotional connection with a woman. Article continues below
One of the better tricks Married Life has up its sleeve is its ability to remain light and jocular even as the story travels the dark woods of infidelity, betrayal, and murder. Serving as narrator, Brosnan's Richard is wry and calculating in his pursuit of Kay, and we're asked to take pleasure in his manipulations. Our sympathy spills over into the other characters as well. Sachs and Moverman are careful never to allow any one character to inhabit the moral high ground for too long, so that even as they plot and commit their treachery, it's clear that we'll be able to forgive them before too long.
Married Life isn't perfect, however. During certain portions of the film, it feels awfully slight, more like a character study, or rather four character studies, than a feature film. Of course, it does have something to say about the vulnerability, and durability, of modern marriage, the secrets we keep from loved ones, and the absurdity of our designs on happiness. But these themes are hardly original, and they don't take shape in a terribly inventive way. There is also the problem of the characters' irritatingly mannered dialogue, which is obviously meant to approximate the way wealthy people spoke to each in the years after the war, but more often sounds contrived and too perfectly articulate, as if you could hear commas and semicolons leaping out of the script.
This latter weakness is helped mightily by the film's phenomenal cast. Cooper and Brosnan manage to make even the most overwritten lines sound somewhat reasonable. Brosnan in particular is excellent. As with his work in The Tailor of Panama and The Matador, Brosnan clearly relishes pushing his dashing 007 persona into dark corners.
Married Life aims to be the sort of comedy of manners rarely produced these days, and on this count it acquits itself admirably. It is a cleverly scripted film featuring fine actors doing solid work -- nothing more, nothing less.