Set in 1949, Married Life is based on British author John Bingham’s early 1950’s novel, Five Roundabouts to Heaven. The film tells the story of Harry Allen (Chris Cooper), a man whose marriage to Pat (Patricia Clarkson) appears perfect from the outside. In actuality, they have grown apart, and Harry is having an affair with Kay (Rachel McAdams). He confides in his best friend, Richard (Pierce Brosnan), of his plan to leave Pat, and the story unfolds from there.
Harry is a hopeless romantic and wants all the trappings of a fairytale romance. Pat, in a very modern bent, feels that romance, while nice enough for what it is, ultimately is superficial. She believes that relationships basically boil down to ‘Sex.’ In one of numerous plot twists entailed in Married Life, Harry decides to murder Pat to spare her the humiliation of divorce.
Richard is a dedicated bachelor who considers marriage akin to a disease that he has been lucky enough not to catch. However, when he meets Kay through an introduction from Harry, he becomes smitten with her. Kay loves Harry but has misgivings about him hurting Pat by ending his marriage to be with her. With Richard pursuing Kay, a love triangle develops unbeknownst to Harry.
From this point, the plot continues to thicken with several revelations yet to come. The mischievous intrigue of the story pulls the viewer along inside the setting of this elegant period piece. Each of the four leads, plus a substantial supporting actor introduced later, presents an enticing performance playing off each other with chemistry that is palatable. Though the tone of the film is subtle and subdued, there is much emotion buried under the surface that comes into play.
While the movie is titled ‘Married Life,’ it really deals with the broader theme of all relationships and how the participants involved interact. The story performs a beautiful balancing act between the interior and exterior lives of the characters. It came as little surprise when Sachs revealed during his audio commentary that Bingham was a member of the British secret service (and also a mentor to John Le Carre). The film carries over elements from the spy genre in detailing what is revealed and hidden based on the particular relationship involved.
Married Life covers the thematic ground of noir, comedy, suspense and melodrama without being nailed down to any particular genre. The set pieces and costumes are impeccable and throw the viewer into the otherworldliness of the late 40s. Yet, the story has a modern sensibility that would allow it to be set in the present-day but in doing so would lose much of its distinctive flavor. Plus the “favor” that Harry wants to do for Pat would be totally out of context in our times.
My only complaint with Married Life is the ending. It is not that it is wrong or inappropriate, but it just did not feel like the finale expected based on the movie up to that point. In retrospect, the ending works but does not feel fully deserved. It seems too facile based on the immediate actions that precede it. While endings can often make or break a film, this one does not ruin the picture but marginally weakens it for my tastes. That being said there is much to recommend in Married Life.
Sony presents Married Life on Blu-ray framed at 1.85:1 with a 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer that is nothing short of stunning. The colors of the late 40s are displayed as richly saturated and vibrant throughout. Blacks are solid and detail is present even in the darkest scenes. In fact, detail is beautifully consistent throughout the film. No DNR appears to have been applied, as there is an appropriate amount of grain present that at no point becomes obnoxious. It feels consistent to the film-like quality reminiscent of the time period.
Honestly, I cannot find anything to fault in this transfer. It is one of the best Blu-ray video presentations I have seen to date. It will probably not replace the latest action movie as your new demo disc due to the subdued content and not being as hyper-realistic in detail as many recent flicks. However, it is not lacking in depth or detail in any way and faithfully portrays its source material.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is extremely satisfying. The movie is mainly dialogue driven, and vocals come through clear and solid from Brosnan’s noirish narration to the absorbing conversations that make up the meat of the film. Environmental sounds are mixed well, never interfering with the dialogue. Dickon Hinchliffe’s magnificent period appropriate score plays throughout the front and rears to pleasing effect. The lower channel is used when appropriate but is never obtrusive.
The audio, though arguably the most subtle part of the overall presentation, appears to have gotten as much attention to detail as the story and video. Not having a regular Dolby Digital track to compare to, I cannot say that the movie necessarily benefits from lossless sound. However, I am more than happy to take what we are given here with no complaints. Also included is a French 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track and English(SDH and normal), French and Arabic subtitles.
Extras are somewhat sparse and consist of the following:
Feature-Length Commentary with Director Ira Sachs: Not being previously familiar with the director’s work, I was not sure what to expect from this commentary track. It turns out to be very interesting if not totally engaging. Sachs shows his love of film with constant details about the making of and the context behind the feature. He drops a lot of names (Hitchcock, Cassavetes, Preminger, Bogdanovich, etc) in relation to the influences of the movie and his directing style and artistic choices.
There are numerous details behind Married Life to be learned by listening to this track. Sachs’ commentary covers the majority of the film with minimal dropout. About three fourths of the way through, the track starts to sound a bit redundant. It may have run its course at this point but is well worth the effort for fans of the picture.
Three Alternate Endings (20:16): Each of the three endings can be played separately or together. Optional director commentary is available detailing how the endings would have changed the movie and which Sach’s feels is closest to the finale given in the source novel. They all are based off the wedding of Harry’s grandson that takes place fifteen plus years after the theatrical end of the film. While they are fascinating to watch and provide intriguing alternates to the official ending, none of these seem more appropriate than the actual ending even when taking into account my aforementioned issues.
Theatrical Trailer (2:04, HD): A nice high-definition trailer for the movie.
BD-Live: As of this writing the BD-Live feature on this disc has not been enabled. While it requires a profile 2.0 compliant Blu-ray player, hopefully Sony will take advantage of this functionality and provide future supplements such as a behind the scenes feature for this well deserving movie.
Sony presents Married Life in a Blu-ray presentation that offers a stunning 1080p video transfer and very satisfactory lossless audio. The extras are a bit thin with the director’s commentary being the strong point. With the inclusion of the BD-Live functionality, we can hope to see future extras from Sony for this appealing picture.
Married Life is a challenging period piece that covers many genres without being defined by any particular one. The feature includes impeccable acting that functions to fill out an intriguing plot. While the ending leaves me a bit cold, it is not enough of a fault to seriously detract from the overall value of the film. Well worth a rental at minimum, this Blu-ray disc will become a welcome addition to the collection of many viewers.
- Score: 8
— Robert Searle