• Rachel McAdams tempts a married exec to plot murder.
Rachel McAdams tempts a married exec to plot murder.

'Married Life' is a subversive look at the 50s

'Married Life.' Drama about a man who wants to murder his wife to spare her the pain of divorce in postwar suburbia. With Pierce Brosnan, Rachel McAdams, Chris Cooper. Director: Ira Sachs (1:30). PG-13: Sexuality. At Lincoln ­Plaza, Chelsea Cinemas, Sunshine.

One great thing about movies set in the 1950s is the fun that can be had winking at the subversiveness we know hid under the era's veneer of dull respectability. It's the flip side of movies that were actually made in the '50s, which were often very knowing about what people really thought and did but had to camouflage it in mystery or code.

"Married Life" walks a line between the two, mostly successfully. It's a sly little fable with at least six very obvious homages to Alfred Hitchcock thrillers and a dark little heart that happily hides under a double-breasted suit.

That heart belongs to Harry (Chris Cooper), a drab middle-aged Manhattan exec who goes home to his wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson), but pines for passion, both the intellectual and sexual kind. He thinks he's found that with Kay (Rachel McAdams), a war widow who enters restaurants in sexy, vertiginous green outfits and seems interested in Harry's opinions, if not Harry himself.

But Harry can't divorce Pat, since that would crush her, so he decides murder is the only way out. The medication Pat takes provides a means to an end. But Harry's plan is sabotaged by the equally deceptive agendas of Pat, Kay and his smooth best friend, Richard (Pierce Brosnan).

Brosnan, whose character provides the noir-ish voice-over, strikes the perfect note for director Ira Sachs' adaptation of a 1987 pulp novel, "Five Roundabouts to Heaven." Since leaving James Bond behind, Brosnan's become looser and more droll than 007 ever allowed, in "The Matador," the little-seen "Seraphim Falls" and now "Married Life." The way he distractedly flicks ash from his pants leg while figuring out the postcoital situation he's stumbled upon is a miracle of wry gesture.

Cooper, unfortunately, registers as simply ashen, but the Everyman quality that's always been his strength is needed. McAdams tamps down the sparkiness people loved about her in "The Notebook" and "Wedding Crashers," but she's still worth leaving home for and Clarkson is a brittle miracle of hidden lust. Whenever she smiles, it's time to listen carefully to what's not being said.

Original Article