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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Married Life (Blu-ray)
Married Life (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // PG // September 2, 2008 // Region Free
List Price: $38.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 23, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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That's the first line of dialogue Pat (Patricia Clarkson) has in Married Life, and it boils down the way she looks at love to a single, jagged word. She's all
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for warmth, companionship, and whatever else you'd spell out on a Hallmark card, but that's just window dressing; to her, love is sex. For most couples that have been together for ages, that wouldn't be an altogether bad thing, but her husband Harry (Chris Cooper) is a hopeless romantic, and he's aching for something more. Harry thinks he's found it, too, in a quiet, bookish bottle-blonde named Kay (Rachel McAdams). Married Life may be a noir-ish dark comedy set at the tail-end of the 1940s, but Kay's no femme fatale; she really, truly loves Harry, and he desperately wants to be with her too. The only stumbling block is that pesky marriage. Harry can't bring himself to divorce Pat -- out of kindness to her, of course -- so he comes up with a different approach: sparing Pat the pain and scandal of a breakup by poisoning her. Harry keeps that murder scheme to himself, but he does fill his womanizing best friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan) in on the affair. Richard's never been the marrying type, shrugging it off as some sort of a sickness like chicken pox, but he falls for Kay on sight too, even though chasing after her means he'd be betraying the closest friend he's ever had.

Married Life isn't the type of movie that fits comfortably under one of those stock genre headings at Blockbuster. There are elements of suspense -- complete with an unanswered telephone and a frantic drive interrupted by a couple of smarmy cops -- along with a smirkingly dark sense of humor, a sincere peek into what makes friendships and marriages tick, and even a bit of noir. The movie balances these very different tones effortlessly, using them more for color than anything else. Married Life is more intrigued by these characters and how they interact than by genre conventions or standard issue plot machinations, and the core of the plot is strikingly lean and uncomplicated.

Married Life isn't unrelentingly lobbing out plot twists, driven by quadruple-betrayals or waist-deep stacks of dead bodies, but it's clever and sharply written enough to still be compelling, and there's a certain elegance to its simplicity. It certainly helps that the movie is propelled by such an outstanding cast. Patricia Clarkson and Chris Cooper are as reliable as ever. I particularly appreciate the fact that Married Life doesn't take the easy way out by drawing Pat as some sort of nagging shrew, and Cooper manages to be sympathetic even though he is hatching a scheme to knock off his wife and slip a ring on his mistress' finger. The movie never flails its arms around in judgment, and kind of like that scene in Psycho where Marion Crane's car suddenly stops sinking in the swamp and you can practically hear Norman Bates' heart skip a beat, I'm not really sure if I actually wanted Harry to go through with the murder and get away with it or not. To my eyes, at least, that uncertainty is exactly what Married Life is aiming for. Pierce Brosnan really won me over in The Matador, and he too evokes a mixed reaction, equal parts underhanded, sleazy, and exceptionally charming. Of the four leads, Kay is the most thinly drawn, but I get the impression that that's the point. She's meant to be quietly intriguing, and in the same way that Harry and Richard both turn to her to fill in the gaps in their lives, that deliberate ambiguity makes it easier for the audience to doll Kay up as some sort of hopelessly perfect paragon too. Not only is
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Kay drop dead gorgeous, but she's whatever else anyone wants her to be as well. Pretty much any discussion of Married Life is destined to turn to Hitchcock eventually, and in Hitch-speak, Kay is this movie's MacGuffin.

Married Life is a character piece, really, yanking off the covers and peering down at what people keep hidden even from those closest to them. That's why the ending will either be completely satisfying or a total and utter letdown, depending on your perspective. I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll have to be annoyingly vague, but I had a very clear, distinct picture in my head of what Married Life was building up to, but the story veered away in an entirely different direction. It's not the complex, plot twist-peppered finale I had bubbling around in my head, grabbing all of the hints and clues scattered throughout the movie and snowballing into something cacklingly devious, but what writer/director Ira Sachs comes up with feels so much more deserved and natural. I'm not sure it's the ending I wanted, but it is the one I needed.

Part of what intrigued me the most about Married Life is how hard it is to pin down. It doesn't fit cleanly and neatly into any one genre. It's a period piece that doesn't feel tethered to any particular time and place. In his audio commentary, Ira Sachs spouts off a long list of the films and directors that inspired him, but Married Life doesn't feel like a pastiche of other movies. Married Life draws so much from the past but feels like something I haven't seen before. Smart, mature, thoughtful, funny, charming, and even a bit suspenseful, Married Life is another rewarding discovery on Blu-ray, and I continue to be impressed that Sony is making such an effort to release even their smaller films day-and-date on the format. Highly Recommended.

Video: Married Life looks gorgeous in high definition. Reference-quality eye candy it's not, exactly -- Peter Deming's cinematography rolls back the clock to better match the 1940s setting, and the image boasts a deliberately grainy texture and isn't as dazzlingly crisp as most day-and-date releases -- but that retro-leaning aesthetic perfectly complements the tone of the film. Married Life is reasonably sharp and brimming with fine detail, and its palette is warm and beautifully saturated throughout. The quality never wavers, even in its most dimly-lit moments. The only flaw of any sort that I was able to spot is some infrequent and very light ringing around some edges.

Married Life is presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and has been encoded with AVC.

Audio: The 24-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is first-rate as well. Married Life may be driven by its dialogue, but the sound design sports an extremely strong sense
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of ambiance, keeping every channel bustling even in its lower-key moments. The mix doesn't rattle the room, but bass response is robust, and Dickon Hinchliffe's absolutely brilliant period-influenced score is rendered with striking warmth and clarity. This is a movie that in lesser hands would've anchored all of the audio front and center and let it disinterestedly bleed into the other channels; quite a bit of thought and care has clearly been invested in Married Life's sound design, though, and this Blu-ray disc showcases that effort wonderfully.

A second lossless soundtrack is offered in French, alongside subtitle streams in English (traditional and SDH), French, and Arabic. French subtitles are also optionally offered for the disc's audio commentary.

Extras: Married Life features three alternate endings, each of which is presented in standard definition and letterboxed. They each open the same way, flashing forward to a wedding twenty years down the road. The first is a bleak, depressing coda that racks up quite a body count and offers an explanation for Richard's running narration throughout the film. The second runs with the same general idea but draws to a much-too-subdued close, and the third and final ending makes some nips and tucks to end on a sunnier, more cheerful note. These three endings run twenty minutes in total.

Director Ira Sachs chimes in with optional commentary for these alternate endings, running through how a film can be a completely different beast during editing than it is on the written page, noting that the first of the alternate endings is more faithful to the original novel, how one reveal was swiped from Judgment at Nuremburg, and noting that he doesn't frown on test screenings the way many directors do. Sachs explains why these endings really don't work,
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and with as straightforward and well-earned as the final moments of Married Life are, the movie's better off for having moved in such a different direction.

Sachs also offers running commentary for the film proper. Much of the conversation swirls around his approach as a director -- letting the actors act, basically, trying to capture as much spontaneity and as many of the cast's unique flourishes as possible -- as well as the touchstones he turned to for Married Life. It's a bit funny to hear him drop the name of another director every minute and a half -- Cassavetes, Bogdanovich, Powell, Preminger, Aldrich, Hitchcock, Welles, Antonioni, and Truffaut, just to rattle off a few -- but it's all part of Sach's infectious passion for filmmaking, and it's that enthusiasm that makes the commentary such an engaging listen. Other topics of conversation include the mix of a still-contemporary story against a nearly 60 year old backdrop, deliberately keeping the exact time and setting somewhat unclear, how he drew from a novel written in the '50s by a British spy, and his own thoughts about the nature of marriage. Production design, the brilliant score, and Peter Deming's noir-inspired cinematography are touched upon as well.

Somewhat surprisingly, that's really it for the extras, which are otherwise limited to a handful of high-def trailers. This is a BD-Live enabled disc, but as of this writing, that feature hasn't been enabled.

Conclusion: Married Life grabs an armful of different genres off the shelf -- romance, dark comedy, melodrama, noir, and suspense -- and deftly juggles them all. Sharply written and perfectly cast, Married Life never once leans on its period setting as a gimmick or whips out random plot twists just to keep the audience off-guard. Its characters are bright, complex, and at least somewhat richly drawn, not just scuffed pawns shuffled around the board because that's what's spelled out in the script. Married Life is a movie worth discovering on Blu-ray, especially considering how wonderful this high definition presentation looks and sounds. The only downside is the lean set of extras, but an above-average commentary and an intriguing look into how drastically a movie can be reshaped during editing help set this Blu-ray disc apart from the rest of the lot. Highly Recommended.
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