Films like Married Life don’t come around very often. Ira Sachs’ genre bender was given a limited release in 2007 but I doubt many people are familiar with it, which is weird given its starry cast: Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson, and Rachel McAdams. A highly stylized cross of Todd Haynes’ superior Far From Heaven and the various work of Alfred Hitchcock, Married Life is a low-key entertainment with a script that bounces back and forth between noir-tinged thrills and cutting social satire. Set in 1949 in a suburb outside of Seattle, the film centers on Harry Allen (a tamped down Cooper), unhappily married to his wife Pat (Clarkson, solid as always), who decides to murder her in order to spare her of the humiliation of divorce. Harry has met the alluring vixen Kay (McAdams, scheming and dangerous) who he wants to run away with. The problem is that Harry’s debonair friend Richard (Brosnan, oozing sex-appeal) also has eyes on Kay. The script by Sachs and Oren Moverman (co-writer of Love & Mercy and I’m Not There, writer/director of Rampart, The Messenger, and last year’s brilliant homeless drama Time Out of Mind) is tight at 90 minutes with deft character work and an atmosphere that’s generally hard to pin down.
We get some satirical jabs about domestic life in the early 50’s and there’s a thriller element introduced about half-way through the narrative that definitely throws some surprises into the mix. I really have to give some credit to Sachs, as this was an independent film which probably had a limited budget but you’d never know it from the look of it. Beautifully shot by Peter Deming (I Heart Huckabees) with gorgeous period detail in the production design by Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski (Dirty Pretty Things, Snatch), Married Life has a cinematic time capsule quality much in the same way that Mad Men brought to television. Evocative of wealthy suburban life from 60 years ago, the film is always visually impressive and all of the performances are top-notch, especially Cooper and Brosnan. Cooper has made a career out of playing the dour, put-upon schnook, and in Married Life, he was able to take his character in a few interesting psychological directions. And Brosnan, who will always have that James Bond twinkle in the corner of his eyes, was smooth as brandy and very likable even when playing a devious character. This is a very unique film and one that’s likely to surprise many people.