(director/writer: Ira Sachs; screenwriters: Oren Moverman/based on the book “Five Roundabouts to Heaven” by John Bingham; cinematographer: Peter Deming; editor: Affonso Gonçalves; music: Dickon Hinchliffe; cast: Chris Cooper (Harry Allen), Pierce Brosnan (Richard Langley), Patricia Clarkson (Pat Allen), Rachel McAdams (Kay Nesbitt), David Wenham (John O’Brien), Timothy Webber (Alvin Walters); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Mr. Sachs/Sidney Kimmel/Steve Golin/Jawal Nga; Sony Pictures Classics; 2007)
“Never says much about the marital institution that is fresh.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A 1949 melodramatic period piece, set in an unnamed city (filmed in Toronto), that spins a well-acted cynical take on married life, pointing out that appearances are deceptive in judging whether a seemingly happy couple is really happy. It has an unhappy hubby about to poison his wife and when that fails realizes he can’t live without her. Ira Sachs’ (“The Delta”/”Forty Shades of Blue”) dry and somewhat dull black comedy never says much about the marital institution that is fresh, but does spin a stylish Chabrol-like tale of bourgeois love being built on a pack of deceptions by using a wry dark humor mixed with a wickedly conceived splash of suspense. It’s based on the book “Five Roundabouts to Heaven” by John Bingham and written by Sachs and Oren Moverman.

Middle-aged, uptight, wealthy businessman Harry Allen (Chris Cooper) has what appears to be a seemingly better than average longtime marriage to the stable Pat (Patricia Clarkson) but, nevertheless, feels the childless marriage has run its course and finds happiness with a much younger and more attractive woman, a blonde war widow named Kay Nesbitt (Rachel McAdams), whom he showers with gifts and passion. Harry tells his best friend from childhood, the womanizing bachelor, Richard Langley (Pierce Brosnan), that he’s getting up enough nerve to ask Pat for a divorce and asks him to look in on Kay because she’s lonesome in her isolated country house (if you believe that someone as business smart as Harry would let his wolfish friend look after his lovely mistress, then you believe what I couldn’t). What results is that Richard falls for Kay and plots to take her away from his best friend, while Harry feels he loves his wife enough that he doesn’t want her to suffer from his decision and feels it would be more merciful to poison her and let her die contented in her sleep. What Harry doesn’t know is that his trusted wife Pat is in love with one of his circle of friends, John O’Brien (David Wenham), but doesn’t want a divorce because she fears her husband can’t live without her and believes in the marriage vow of forever.

The satisfactions derived from Married Life is in observing the folly of the human condition and all the frank talk. We observe that all these flawed characters build their own gilded cages to live in without realizing how hypercritical are their smug sentiments about love. In its sly way the film asks “What is married life?” The answers range from Clarkson saying “love is sex” to Brosnan’s marriage is “a mild kind of illness” to Cooper’s “wanting something more than sex, an emotional connection.” The joke is that to all of them love is nothing more than a whim or an illusionary sentiment, and all their pronouncements about marriage become comical when we observe how dumb they act.

Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Cooper, and Rachel McAdams in Married Life (2007)