Back when he was first tapped to play 007, Pierce Brosnan seemed like the straight-to-video Bond, a generically suave star with a résumé that hadn't been polished much since his stint on Remington Steele. But in recent years, particularly with his turns in The Tailor Of Panama and The Matador, Brosnan has been working to dismantle the Bond persona by exploiting his image to diabolical (or, in the case of The Matador, downright pathetic) ends. He's more of a cad now than a player, and he's become a far more interesting actor because of it—wittier, more insinuating, and altogether less predictable. The man also knows how to smoke a cigarette as well as anyone this side of Lauren Bacall.

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As a committed bachelor who takes an interest in his best friend's mistress, Brosnan is by far the most compelling element of Married Life, Ira Sachs' by-the-numbers melodrama of sexual duplicity and marital discord in post-World War II America. Narrating from atop a high perch, Brosnan wends through the noir-inflected story of bored businessman Chris Cooper, who goes to drastic lengths to end his stale marriage. Tired of his drab, buttoned-down suburban life, Cooper takes up with a pretty young bottle-blonde (Rachel McAdams) nearly half his age, but rather than leaving his faithful wife (Patricia Clarkson), he decides to poison her instead. Meanwhile, Brosnan casually swoops in on Cooper's territory and tries to take his friend's mistress as his own, loyalty be damned.

To a degree, the dynamic between Brosnan and Cooper resembles Aaron Eckhart and Matt Malloy's relationship from In The Company Of Men: Both pursue the same end by different means, with Brosnan seeming the callow conqueror, while Cooper is more earnest and sincere, with the flop sweat to prove it. But while it's in Brosnan's nature to pursue his desires, Cooper's sensitivity manifests itself more darkly: Here's a man so craven that he'd rather kill his wife than ask for a divorce. Sachs gets terrific performances out of his actors, but from the deliberately blunt title on down, Married Life feels stiflingly mannered and generic when it should be percolating with emotion. (It doesn't help that the first-rate AMC series Mad Men covers similar ground with greater insight and period specificity.) It's much better off when it leaves the storytelling to Brosnan's elegant curls of smoke.