Darkly Unpredictable

Harry (Pierce Brosnan) competes for Kay's (Rachel McAdams) affections in
Harry (Pierce Brosnan) competes for Kay's (Rachel McAdams) affections in "Married Life." (By Joseph Lederer/sony Pictures Classics)

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Friday, March 28, 2008

"Married Life" is an engaging romance noir, a sort of updated "The Postman Always Rings Twice" that packs its surprises into four characters, none of them predictable.

Set in 1949, it stars Chris Cooper as Harry, a middle-aged husband having an affair with a kept, much younger woman, Kay (Rachel McAdams). His wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson), is oblivious and seemingly devoted to him. When he confides his secret to playboy-pal Richard (Pierce Brosnan), Harry creates more problems: Richard starts falling in love with Kay, too. And in this movie, romantic entanglements turn increasingly life-threatening.

How is it that the disastrous repercussions of an extramarital affair could be considered entertaining, and even comforting, viewing? By presenting it as a nail-biting, cautionary tale set in another era. Director Ira Sachs and co-writer Oren Moverman (who adapted the John Bingham "Five Roundabouts to Heaven") take the basic ingredients of those old-time films noir, shake them in a postmodern martini mixer, then pour it into chilled glasses for our delectation. Our satisfaction comes in observing the follies, tragedy and comedy of humanity at safe remove. There is a perverse pleasure in knowing that, no matter how badly we run our lives, someone somewhere is doing something even dumber -- or more dangerous.

-- Desson Thomson

Married Life PG-13, 90 minutes Contains sexual content and macabre story elements. Area theaters. Married Life PG-13, 90 minutes Contains sexual content and macabre story elements. Area theaters.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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