A seething morass of intrigue and betrayal lurk behind the placid surface of post-WWII middle-class life in this tale of a four-sided triangle and its inevitable complications. P>
The year is 1949, and New York businessman Harry (Chris Cooper), a grey, middle-management drone in a corporate machine, is having a confessional martinis-and-cigarettes lunch with his old friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan), a dashing rake who wears success as lightly as a bespoke dinner jacket.
Harry is having an affair: Not a cheap, thrilling fling but a meeting of the souls with Kay (Rachel McAdams), a bookish young widow who lives near the country place to which Harry and his wife, Pat (Patricia Clarkson), repair on weekends. It's not that Harry hates Pat, or that she's turned into a frigid harridan; if anything, she's more interested in sex than he is. It's just that he now realizes he never really loved her, and that their marriage -- at least from his perspective -- is simply a façade propped up by polite socializing and familiar domestic routines. But much though Harry loves Kay, he can't bear the thought of divorcing Pat -- she depends on him, and he couldn't bear subjecting to her the humiliation of being abandoned for a younger woman. Harry doesn't know what to do, but he does want Richard to meet Kay, which is why he's invited her to join them. Richard, cad that he is, wants the gorgeous, soft-spoken Kay from the moment he lays eyes on her, and wastes no time in hitting upon the perfect way to seduce her: Playing on her better nature. She isn't a home wrecker, he purrs when she expresses doubts about having involved herself with a married man. And did she know Harry's wife was in fragile health? Harry, meanwhile, decides that the only decent way to end his marriage is to kill Pat -- gently and painlessly, of course -- thereby sparing her the bitter life of a lonely divorcee.
Based on the book by UK-spymaster-turned-novelist John Bingham -- an old colleague of John Le Carre and the inspiration for the character of George Smiley -- this psychological thriller, an icy dissection of the way social proprieties can pervert the rule-abiding mind while having no effect on the amoral. Writer-director Ira Sachs gets what Bingham is up to, but shifting the story from England to the US robs the story of much of its nuance: Post-war England was still mired in wartime deprivation and propped up by the fiercely enforced ideal of self-sacrifice for the common good, while America was in the midst of an economic boom that encouraged optimism through consumption. Laying a glossy layer of retrospective irony over the story finishes the job: The film has the look of Alfred Hitchcock's glossiest American thrillers by way of Douglas Sirk's delirious melodramas, but without the wit of the former or the emotional intensity of the latter. It's handsome but hollow, a comedy of manners whose bitterness is mellowed into a vaguely nostalgic wonder at the silly things people used to do in the name of social correctness.
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- Released: 2008
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: A seething morass of intrigue and betrayal lurk behind the placid surface of post-WWII middle-class life in this tale of a four-sided triangle and its inevitable complications. P> The year is 1949, and New York businessman Harry (Chris Cooper), a grey,… (more)