Married Life (PG-13) (90 min.) Mix hot-blooded infidelity with cold-blooded murder and the results shouldn't be as lukewarm as Ira Sachs' film. Blessed with a fine cast and solid 1940s details, Married Life is an interesting retro piece that never capitalizes on its potential, as Woody Allen's modern but similar Match Point did a few years ago.
Oscar winner Chris Cooper (Adaptation) stars as Harry Allen, a success at whatever his business is, but that doesn't matter to Sachs. Harry begins the movie meeting his best friend Richard Langley (Pierce Brosnan) for lunch. Richard is the film's narrator, and he already dropped hints that Harry will be deadly unhappy before long.
Their discussion is interrupted by Harry's news that he is divorcing his wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson), and the arrival of the reason why: a younger, prettier woman named Kay (Rachel McAdams). But Richard is immediately smitten, too. A platonic affair of sorts begins.
Pat isn't a bad spouse, just one who doesn't appreciate Harry's sense of romance. Kay eats it up. Harry realizes he cares enough about his wife to not want to embarrass her. Killing Pat with a practically untraceable poison in her nightly digestive medicine will spare her feelings.
The performances are worth watching, with Cooper showing another side of his chameleonic talent and Brosnan putting James Bond another few paces behind him. McAdams is a vision of 1940s porcelain beauty yet the movie uses her mainly as a lovely knickknack. Even Clarkson can't make Pat's revealed nature believable, so the third act's dark humor never quite clicks.
Sachs' film noir inspirations are obvious even in color. But he never establishes the genre's most identifiable mark: the femme fatale. We wait for Kay to do something dark that never comes, or Pat to show something more than a housewife's demeanor, which she does but it doesn't matter much. Married Life is subdued about immorality and sleepy with its consequences, unlike Match Point, which ended with spines chilled. B-
Steve Persall, Times film critic