Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Program Length: 91 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English, English SDH, French, Arabic
I’m not at all certain that one can build happiness upon the unhappiness of someone else. Some could. But not someone with your burden of conscience. You’re too good.
Richard Langley (Pierce Brosnan), a rakish playboy, uses that argument (and uses it more than once) to try to head off a divorce between his life-long friend, Harry Allen (Chris Cooper), and Harry’s wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson). One might consider that to be sound advice, coming as it does from a concerned and devoted friend, but Richard’s motives are anything but altruistic. It is 1949, an era when men wear fedoras and have time for three-martini lunches. Harry, a very successful businessman, has asked Richard to join him for just such a midday repast. He confides to Richard that, after more than twenty years of marriage, he wants to leave Pat for a younger woman because, he says, “I want to be truly happy.” Richard is taken by surprise, because he has always felt that Harry and Pat have a pretty good marriage - “as marriages go.” Harry, a rather dour but basically decent man, says that he has found the happiness he has been seeking with Kay (Rachel McAdams), a stunning young woman with Harlow-like blonde hair and luscious red lips. However, when Harry introduces Kay to Richard, his friend immediately decides that he wants Kay for himself.
Harry’s problem is that he cannot bring himself to ask Pat for a divorce, because he still cares for her and cannot bear the idea of her suffering. So, at every opportunity, Harry slips away to spend time with Kay, all the while telling Pat that he is working late or going on a business trip. Richard, in the meantime, begins to insinuate himself into Kay’s life by visiting her and taking her out whenever Harry cannot be with her. At the same time, Richard realizes that the only way he can win Kay for himself is to make sure that Harry and Pat never split up. However, his plans hit a snag when he goes to see Harry and Pat at their cabin in the woods one weekend and discovers that all is not quite as he has believed.
Harry, oblivious to the moves which Richard is making on Kay, decides that the only way to uncomplicate his life is to painlessly poison Pat. She is, after all, totally devoted to him, so how could he make her endure the rejection of a divorce? At this point the noirish elements of Married Life kick in. It turns out that the relationship between Harry and Pat is not all that it seems and Harry’s plot to kill Pat runs into unanticipated obstacles. Richard, meanwhile, continues to woo Kay and tries to keep Harry and Pat together while he has no inkling about Harry’s homicidal intentions.
There is much to like about Married Life, not the least of which is the wonderful performances by the four lead actors. Pierce Brosnan’s post-Bond period has shown him to be a fine actor, and Chris Cooper is superb as a conflicted man who seems to exude decency even as he is planning to kill his wife. Rachel McAdams is very good as the lonely and somewhat naïve Kay and Patricia Clarkson steals the show with her multi-layered depiction of Pat. Brosnan’s character also moves the story along with incisive narration.
The film is based upon John Bingham’s novel, Five Roundabouts to Heaven. Bingham was a British intelligence agent who was the unwilling inspiration for John LeCarre’s character George Smiley. The novel is primarily set in London, but in the film the story takes place in what appears to be southern California (director Ira Sachs deliberately leaves the precise location ambiguous). The post-war era is evoked quite nicely, both visually and with period music. Humor and suspense are smoothly intertwined and the result is an entertaining and satisfying 91 minutes.
The 1080p Blu-ray widescreen transfer is sharp – but not overly so - and retains a mild amount of grain to give it a satisfying, film-like look. The palette is warm but somewhat subdued, which is appropriate for the time period in which the action takes place. In fact, this film would have looked great in black & white. Much of the action takes place in low-light situations, but shadow detail is excellent and I never felt that I was missing anything. The video quality is consistent throughout. Cinematographer Peter Deming has done an admirable job of creating the look of a film set in the fifties. The 1.85:1 framing appears to be accurate and presumably does an accurate job of replicating how the film looked in theaters.
The Dolby TrueHD audio is excellent. Period music is used throughout the film and blends quite nicely with the story as it plays out on the screen. This is not an action film, so the sound will not blow you away, but the surround channels are used in a subtle and effective manner to create an involving ambience. For example, there are background sounds in the early restaurant scene which give the viewer the sense of actually being there. The dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout. The music really comes to life during a segment where Richard takes Kay on the town and they dance the night away.
This Blu-ray release of Married Life included three alternate endings, which take place seventeen years or so after the main story is concluded. Each of these takes begins with the marriage of Harry and Pat’s grandson. The first two alternate endings are rather downbeat and go on for more than nine minutes each. The third starts out the same way but has a sunnier and shorter conclusion. The finished film is better off without them, as they really add nothing of importance. There is an option to play the alternate endings with commentary by director Ira Sachs, who explains that the first alternate ending is true to the novel but, like the others, did not really work well in the film.
The disc also includes a full running commentary by Sachs, who demonstrates that he has been influenced by a plethora of directors from Hitchcock to Welles to Traffaut. He talks about how he encourages spontaneity from his actors and goes into some detail about the musical score, the production design, and the cinematography.
You will also find a number of high-definition trailers, including one for Hancock, which is scheduled to be released on Blu-ray and DVD in November.
Some BD-Live features are promised, but in keeping with Sony’s current practice they will not be accessible until the release date.
The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase.
The Final Analysis
Married Life is something of a throwback, a film which combines suspense and humor with a sophisticated story about realistic, mature adults who have difficulty reconciling what they feel obligated to do with what their hearts tell them they want to do. I found it to be very enjoyable and involving, and I have no hesitation about recommending it.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD10A DVD Player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: September 2, 2008