Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Remember the time businessmen were expected to drink martinis at lunch, and the time they were expected not to? Ira Sachs' "Married Life" begins with Harry taking Richard into his confidence at a martinis-and-cigarettes lunch that confirms the movie is set in 1949. Harry (Chris Cooper) is a buttoned-down, closed-in, respectable type. Richard (Pierce Brosnan) is more easygoing. You can tell by the way they smoke. Harry is painfully earnest as he tells his friend that he plans to leave his wife for a much younger woman. The younger woman truly and deeply loves him. All his wife wants is sex.
Why does Harry share this information? I think he wants understanding and forgiveness from a man he respects. He has arranged for the young woman to join them at lunch. Here she comes now. She is Kay (Rachel McAdams). She has the bottle-blond hair and the bright red lipstick, the Harlow look. But don't get the wrong idea. She's a sweet kid, and she really does love Harry. The movie has a voiceover narration by Richard, but we don't need it to tell from the look in his eyes that Richard desires Kay, and that from the moment he sees her, he wants to take her away from the dutiful Harry.
How dutiful is Harry? So devoted to his wife that he can't stand the thought of telling her he wants a divorce. He decides to take pity on her, spare her that pain, and murder her instead. Sort of a mercy killing. He's serious about this. He knows how devoted his wife is to him, and how this news would shatter her, and he doubts if she could stand it.
This story, which crosses film noir with the look and feel of a Douglas Sirk film, balances between its crime element and its social commentary: Everything Harry does is within the terms of a circa-1950 middle-class suburban marriage, with what we have been taught of all of its horrors. Marriage is always bad in these dark movies. I personally think it was better than in 1950s comedies, but then that's just me. We have the same problems but we smoke less and use more jargon. And no generation thinks its fashions look funny, although Gene Siskel used to amuse himself by watching people walking down the street and thinking to himself, "When they left home this morning, they thought they looked good in that."