What's happened to the film noir? Hollywood seems to have all but abandoned the genre -- you'd have to go all the way back to such gems as 'The Grifters' and 'Body Heat' to find a competent one. Which is a shame, because the genre's rich mix of lurid melodrama, sexual intrigue, and romantic cynicism is much-missed in today's cinema. As much as I like the romantic comedies and hi-tech thrillers that Hollywood seems to be glutting theaters with these days, it's been far too long since we've had a truly wicked tale of duped men, beautiful blondes, and devious double-crosses.
As a modern Hitchcockian film noir, the success of 'Married Life' absolutely depends upon its twists and turns remaining a surprise, so I won't spoil anything. I will say it has a great hook for a thriller. Chris Cooper stars as Harry, a married man who cares very deeply for his still-lovely wife Pat (Patricia Clarke), despite the fact that he's fallen in love with peroxided femme fatale Kay (Rachel McAdams), a seemingly simple gal who has a hankering for older, married men. So Harry does what any normal, loving husband would do -- he decides that rather than break Pat's heart, he'll spare her the misery by simply killing her instead. Things get complicated, however, after Harry introduces Kay to his best friend, the sharp shark Richard (Pierce Brosnan). Much deception and betrayal follow...
The first half of 'Married Life' is great fun. It's been such a long time since Hollywood has truly tried its hand at a hard-boiled, sexy noir thriller that just the mere existence of the film is exciting. It's also a thrill to watch such a fine cast so deftly modulate the devious machinations of the script by Ira Sachs and Oren Moverman, which delights in vivid period detail and playing off of our expectations of what we know (or think we know) of the genre. And the direction, also by Sachs, is assured, with clear Hitchcockian influences that don't come off as mere pastiche but inspired homage. Halfway through, I was gearing myself up for a good one.
Unfortunately, 'Married Life' gets a bit bogged down in its second half. Perhaps Sachs and Moverman were a little too ambitious -- the film begins to expand its scope to include elements of farce, black comedy, '50s melodrama and even horror. The juggling act required begins to dull the film's initial, harder edge, and the final act complications never quite wrap up Harry's initial dilemma in a satisfying way. Typical of modern noirs -- which so often overload the endless plot twists at the expense of logical characterization -- the film loses focuses of Harry's original marital dilemma, sacrificing some of the potential moral complexities for the sake of genre conventions.
'Married Life' still emerges as a minor sleeper, largely thanks to its wonderful cast. Oscar-winner Cooper rarely fails, and here he manages to convey both the pathetic qualities of Harry as well as his deviousness, so we always remain on edge as to just how far this sap will really go in his murderous plot. McAdams also proves herself to be worthy of her early-career hype, portraying her most adult character and effectively walking the tightrope of overt sexiness and masked vulnerability. And Clarkson (as usual) almost steals the show, turning what could have been a reactive, passive character into a woman who, eventually, will prove herself no sitting duck.
Flawed as it may be, 'Married Life' is a nice respite from the usual action blockbusters that are currently Blu-ray's raison d'etre. I'm glad Sony is releasing this overlooked film on high-def, as it barely earned a theatrical release and was, surprisingly, all but ignored by critics. I wish Sachs had found a stronger way to wrap up his story -- the uncertainty of the climax is underscored on this release by the inclusion of three alternate endings, none of which are completely effective, either -- but for most of its runtime, 'Married Life' is a fun, intriguing, and ambitious film that packs enough noir surprises to make it well worth discovering.
Sony provides a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (1.85:1) for 'Married Life.' The movie has a very film-like, colorful look, one that perfectly encapsulates the time and tone of the material, and it is served quite nicely here.
'Married Life' does not have a "pristine" look, with a fair amount of intentional film grain, a slightly dark appearance in lower-light scenes, and splashes of a darker "earthy" color palette. But Peter Deming's vaguely noir-ish cinematography is nicely reproduced here, with clean hues, nice fleshtones, and very well-balanced contrast that doesn't overpump the image. There is some softness, but detail generally remains strong. Unfortunately, there appears to be some edge enhancement applied to boost sharpness, which I found distracting. Otherwise, this is a solid encode with no major artifacts. All in all, 'Married Life' is a pleasing presentation perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the material.
'Married Life' gets an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack. It's a subtle, dialogue-driven film, but its sound design remains impressive for being so well-modulated and concerned with fine aural details.
Dialogue is front and center, as it should. This is a clean and polished recording, with dialogue always intelligible and never overpowered by effects or music. Unsurprisingly, surrounds are generally subdued. However, the lack of over-the-top gimmickry is welcome, as subtle ambiance is almost constant. The lovely score is also well-bled throughout. So although the rears never truly make their presence known, it's rare that there isn't some activity present. 'Married Life' is a refreshing change from your usual Blu-ray action spectacle.
Given 'Married Life's limited theatrical release and general lack of a high profile, it's no shock that Sony hasn't produced much in the way of supplements for its video release. This is a simple package, though what we do get is of high quality.
'Married Life' is a small film of simple genre pleasures, which is not a derogatory appraisal. While I didn't think the film always navigated its many tonal shifts with complete success, or find a proper ending, it's still a very well-crafted and acted little sleeper. This Blu-ray is very nice, too, with good video and audio, and a couple of interesting supplements. If you are in the mood for something different than the latest Blu-ray action flick, 'Married Life' is well worth a look.