Suburban America, 1949. President Harry S Truman has just unveiled his Fair Deal plan and the People’s Republic of China is in the process of being born. As befits his business class status, mild-mannered Harry Allen (Chris Cooper) keeps a childless wife Pat (Patricia Clarkson) and a much younger mistress in the shape of blonde beauty Kay (Rachel McAdams). When he introduces his longtime bachelor friend, Richard (Pierce Brosnan) to Kay, Richard is smitten. As Richard goes about trying to secretly win Kay, Harry has more diabolical plans.
The writer/director of Married Life, Ira Sachs, is an undeniably gifted 40-something Jewish boy from Memphis, Tennessee whose precise, achingly realised character studies The Delta and 40 Shades of Blue have been among the best film works to come out of the confederate states in the last decade or so. His new film is a slavish replication of Hitchcock’s more lugubrious noirs, most notably 1943’s Shadow of a Doubt (the rarefied influence of Thornton Wilder who wrote that film is all over Married Life like a rash).
Part black comedy, part old-fashioned potboiler, Married Life looks great. It is impeccably and meticulously produced and designed (vintage clothing fans will enjoy the costume detail) and the performances, as one would expect from this cast, are faultless. The problem here is with Sachs’ script. Clearly working to templates laid down by the Coen brothers in their near-perfect 2001 noir pastiche, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and to a lesser extent Todd Haynes’ 2002 Douglas Sirk homage Far From Heaven, Sachs’ effort is just too Tigger-ish. While directed with an admirable maturity and control, the overly verbose (Billy) Wilderean voiceover, the farcical to-ing and fro-ing, the hints of sexual liberation that lay ahead and the far too knowing tone (not really helped by the casting of Brosnan, arguably the most self conscious actor of his generation), is all just a bit too much. Sachs can’t seem to work out whether he wants to be Victor Borge or John Cheever.
GFT, Glasgow and selected release from Fri 8 Aug.