29 December 2009 | EUyeshima
Acts of Deception in a Muted, Twisty Homage to Post-WWII Domestic Melodramas
I think director/co-writer Ira Sachs' subtle 2007 homage to the old-fashioned studio melodramas of the 1940s and 50s could have used more of the Baroque feverishness of a Douglas Sirk ("All That Heaven Allows") to make the adultery-driven plot more intriguing stylistically - perhaps a face slap here, a gun confrontation there, even a shouting match in a restaurant. Instead, Sachs, along with co-writer Oren Moverman ("The Messenger"), downplays the overripe theatrics in favor of a more Hitchcockian approach to their noirish fable about the transient rules of love and deception. The resulting film is fun to watch due to its faithful period depiction but sometimes little more than a moral exercise in punishing the subversive thoughts and actions of the seemingly staid protagonist.
It's 1949, and the plot centers on Harry, a middle-aged and very married Manhattan executive, who finds himself in love with the much younger Kay, a WWII widow who enjoys the attention of a man so devoted to her. Harry decides he cannot divorce his wife Pat for fear of breaking her heart. In fact, he thinks it's more charitable to murder her by poisoning her digestive powder which she takes religiously every day. Harry's best friend Richard is aware of Harry's intentions and gets caught in the middle trying to save the marriage while finding himself becoming attracted to Kay as well. Not quite the victim she would seem to be, Pat has secrets of her own, which leads to a roundelay of events befitting the increasingly uneasy blend of treachery and absolution. Sachs capably keeps things afloat even when the suspense factor appears overly muted.
A smart quartet of actors has been cast beginning with Chris Cooper ("Adaptation") effectively embodying the crushed soul that Harry has become. Providing the voice-over narration from his character's limited perspective, Pierce Brosnan ("The Matador") uses his naturally erudite manner to great wry effect as Richard, while Patricia Clarkson ("Whatever Works") gives added dimensions of knowingness and cunning to Pat. With her hair dyed an unflattering peroxide blonde, Rachel McAdams ("The Notebook") looks poised to play the femme fatale, but her character is more ingenuous than she looks. That basically means McAdams has little bandwidth to add any complex shading to Kay. The 2008 DVD offers an informative commentary from Sachs, the theatrical trailer, and three alternate endings, each flash-forwarding the story sixteen years later to O. Henry-type resolutions. While interesting, none really add that much to the ending used in the movie.