Saturday, September 27, 2008
Married Life **
Director: Ira Sachs
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Rachel McAdams
We get it, life in the 1940's wasn't any better than life in our times.
Which is why one has to look beneath the surface to explain why does Hollywood choose to go back to this time to deconstruct the picket fenced, pastel colored lives of its inhabitants.
A reminder perhaps that old isn't necessarily better? Or a bitter attempt to bring our illusions about nostalgia down to Earth?
Whatever the reason is, and judging from the result of this film, director, Ira Sachs himself has no clue of why he chose this path as he explores love and relationships through the eyes of four characters.
Harry Allen (Cooper) is a successful man in his fifties married to Pat (Clarkson), a devoted wife who believes that love is best embodied by sex.
This leads the romantic Harry to fall in love with young war widow Kay (McAdams) who breathes new life into his existence.
The trouble with Harry is that he just doesn't know how to leave Pat without causing her too much pain and decides that the most humane way would be murder.
When his best friend, and narrator, Richard Langley (Brosnan) becomes infatuated with Kay, the plot gives path to a hybrid of noir, Sirk and Hitchcock on style and dark comedy and drama on genre (with none of the factors coming out unscathed or slightly clear).
With a flawless eye for detail (including title credits that promise more than they deliver) "Married Life" is beautiful to behold, but unlike films of the era to which the aesthetics were inherent and to postmodern essays that choose this setting to deliver a specific message, Sachs goes to the 40s because they sure look pretty.
Shot with a European sensibility, the film often lacks some sort of soul, which is luckily provided by two of the performers.
Cooper brings a sense of decency to this man who contemplates murder in such a complex way that for a minute or two you might find yourself understanding his motives.
While the endlessly surprising Clarkson gives Pat a duality one would've thought was inexistent for a character like hers. She can be completely sweet and dedicated, just as easily as she can become wickedly seductive (and her raspy voice does wonders for this).
McAdams never really musters any sort of passion in order for us to believe she'd make men act like this, but if the intention was to go for a frigid Hitchcock blonde, she's as pretty an ornament as she ever was (and you can argue more if the intention was to sexualize her all American goodness).
But one of the film's major problems comes in the shape of Brosnan, while it's undeniable that he's growing as an actor, the plot throws him into the mix and never really knows what to do with him.
His voice is a perfect choice for noir narration and in theory his looks and charm make him tailor made for this role (one that would've probably been played by Fred McMurray back in the day) but the director makes the fatal mistake of also turning him into his own opinion, a sort of anachronistic intruder that is supposed to work as our mediator.
When events start unfolding and he becomes key part in the futures of the other characters we realize that the film doesn't have the guts to turn into a full farce, has no real respect to be an homage and it also lacks the winks to turn into a parody, making it as lost as the emotions of the people in it.
It's even worse when it's unable to sustain ideals its characters were supposed to have, not because characters aren't allowed to change which would be a ridiculous suggestion, but because it's yet another proof of how the film slips so much in its attempt to distract us with smoldering style.