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'Married Life'

An overheated infidelity melodrama that occasionally tips over into comedy, Ira Sachs' period piece is a mishmash of conflicting impulses.

In late-1940s New York, Harry (Chris Cooper) is having an affair but can't bring himself to hurt the feelings of his wife Pat (Patricia Clarkson), so he decides to murder her instead. Best bud Richard (Pierce Brosnan), a bachelor with a roving eye, immediately starts roving in the direction of his pal's new platinum-blonde cutie (Rachel McAdams), while solicitously trying to keep Harry and Pat's marriage together.

Pat, meanwhile, isn't quite the innocent stay-at-home wifey she seems, which means there's duplicity enough to fuel a Restoration comedy. But there are also pauses enough to suggest that Harold Pinter's doing the driving — and taking a Cheeverish approach to a Hitchcockian premise. And that's a few too many impulses to be comfortably contained by any one script.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.