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USA 2008
Directed by
Ira Sachs
90 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Married Life

Synopsis: Harry and Pat Allen (Chris Cooper and Patricia Clarkson) are a long-term married couple who trust each other completely. But Harry has fallen for a cute blonde, Kay (Rachel McAdams), and wants to leave Pat. He just doesn’t know how. He confides his problem to his good friend, Richard (Pierce Brosnan). Richard is rather amused by the idea but when he meets Kay he decides that it's him that should have her, not Harry. Meanwhile, there’s more to Pat than meets the eye.

Married Life is what you might call a “cabinet” picture – a small, precious object for the connoisseur of such things, “such things” being succintly indicated by the film’s title. Marital infidelity has been a popular theme for the American indie film – The Squid And The Whale, We Don’t Live Here Anymore and The Secret Lives Of Dentists spring to mind. Based on Five Roundabouts to Heaven by John Bingham, Married Life takes a quite different approach. Gone is the contemporary setting and the relatively open social and moral framework of those films and instead we are sent back to the controlled and repressed milieu of the late 40s. The enclosed nature of the period film and Pierce Brosnan’s narration place the film in the cabinet however Sachs wants us to take it out and reflect on it . Marriage is still an institution, and as Brosnan’s character more or less asks us the audience, who wants to live in an institution?

To appreciate this film it would help to have been married or at least been in a long term, stable relationship. Face it, kids, no matter how much Hollywood rolls out the old “you're the person I want to be with for the rest of my life” hokum, married life, or its modern equivalent, the partnership, can seem to go on for ever and most (all?) stray in thought if in not deed. Married Life has a lot of fun with this fact, starting off as a near-comedy before morphing into something darker, stylistically almost noir-like, before lightening somewhat and leaving us to draw our own conclusions about the subject in question. In this respect it is a beautifully-crafted film. Perhaps some may feel, almost too slow in parts but one of the attractions of the cabinet object, over-and-above the intrinsic merits of its craftsmanship, is the process of reflection to which it gives rise.

The acting is equal to the fastidious quality of the production. Chris Cooper, an actor who has always delivered in his many support roles of recent years this time steals the show as the quietly conservative businessman with his dreams of a great love. Patricia Clarkson is well cast as his wife, devoted and dutiful, but given to no such romantic fancies. Pierce Brosnan is suitably urbane, whilst Rachel McAdams is eye-catchingly lovely and our own David Wenham has a small and not particularly rewarding role.

Married Life is a quietly engaging film. Not one that blazes with colour and movement but that one deserves leisurely contemplation.

 

 

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