MARRIED LIFE will probably fare better in the DVD format where this at times disturbing view of marital status can be viewed in private rather than in the company of the throngs that resemble the characters depicted in this fine little film. Based on the novel 'Five Roundabouts to Heaven' by John Bingham and well adapted to the screen by Oren Moverman and director Ira Sachs, MARRIED LIFE is a dissection of the hallowed state of matrimony, and one that shows the creases and little holes that make so many marriages fail. it is set in the late 1940s, likely with the attempt to give some 'distance' to the plot, but the messages remain in comparing the tale to contemporary times.
Narrated by perennial playboy bachelor Richard Langley (Pierce Brosnan), we are introduced to Harry Allen (Chris Cooper) who apparently has it all - big house, great job, sex-driven wife Pat (Patricia Clarkson), country home - but Harry has fallen in love with military widow Kay Nesbitt (Rachel McAdams). Harry respects and still 'loves' Pat, but finds in Kay the love he has felt missing from his marriage. He confides his desire to leave Pat to Richard who is surprised - until Richard meets the beautiful Kay. Not wanting to hurt Pat, Harry decides the only solution is to murder Pat so that he can then marry Kay: he researches poisons and buys a potion that he plans to place in Pat's ever-present 'digestive medicine' bottle. Harry and Kay continue their secret assignations in both Kay's home and Harry's nearby country home, but things begin to muddle as Richard falls for Kay, and Kay's attention shifts to Richard, and the devoted Pat is hiding her secret lover Tom (David Richmond-Peck). As the twists and turns surface, everything unwinds and the ending of the story comes as a surprise to everyone!
The quartet of actors - Clarkson, Cooper, Brosnan, and McAdams - serve the story well and the flavor of the 1940s starts with superb opening credit images and carries through with the fine decors and attention to detail that don't seem to miss a beat in recreating the period. This is a difficult film to classify - it has comedy inherent in the absurdity of portions of the plot, it has drama in the core of the tale, and it has mystery as the surprises keep surfacing. The overall effect will be different for every viewer, depending on where in the marriage spectrum each viewer stands! Grady Harp, September 08