Thursday, 16 April 2015

A GOOD MARRIAGE

Directed by Peter Askin, Starring: Joan Allen, Anthony LaPaglia, Stephen Lang. Thriller, US, 2014, 102mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on DVD on 20th April 2015 by Spirit Entertainment Limited.

Shortly after celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary, Darcy Anderson (Joan Allen) accidentally discovers that her coin-collecting accountant husband Bob (Anthony LaPaglia) has a very disturbing secret. Burdened with this dreadful knowledge, Darcy wrestles with her conscious as to what she should do next - and whether or not she and Bob can in anyway maintain what she’d previously thought was a ‘good marriage’.

Stephen King can’t have any complaints about this adaption of his novella as he wrote the screenplay. But unfortunately, even its creator can’t overcome the problem so many other screen translations have failed to tackle successfully in dealing with King’s writing: namely, the inability to convey the inner-workings of his characters. Case in point, A GOOD MARRIAGE. This is essentially a character study, inspired by a real-life scenario, which poses the ‘what if?’ question – a frequent starting point for King’s fiction. What if the person with whom you’ve shared your bed with for the past 25 years is actually a monster – what would you do about it and would anyone believe that you truly had no idea during all that time? On the printed page, King is a master at poking and probing into the psyches of his New-England protagonists – but on screen, without this interior reasoning, the result here appears flat and uninspiring.

“Oh honey, this is not some movie where the psycho husband chases the screaming wife round the house” says hubby Bob at one point in the film. No indeed it isn’t, but unfortunately any film with Stephen King’s name on the poster brings with it the expectation - at the very least – of chills, thrills and the occasional spill. (And the trailer is guilty of encouraging this misconception by the way).

Actress Joan Allen is indelibly etched in my mind’s eye as Tom Noonan’s blind girlfriend, listening to a sedated tiger’s heartbeat in Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER (1986). As with her befriending of Francis Dollarhyde’s ‘Red Dragon’, here too she plays a character blind (figuratively speaking this time) to the true nature of her companion. It’s a tricky role to pull off without the benefit of author King’s internal voiceover, but as the anchor of the film she does convey a stoic steeliness. Anthony LaPaglia on the other hand, has an impossible task trying to sell travelling accountant Bob (who, according to his colleague is very good at covering his tracks – nudge, nudge) as just being a normal guy on the level. And that’s before we learn of his preferences in reading material in the garage... Stephen Lang periodically pops up from time to time squinting menacingly in the distance as retired terminally-ill cop ‘Holt Ramsey’, whose sole method of deduction seems to boil down to combining Bob and Darcy’s first initials onto a scrawny piece of paper in order to find the identity of the ‘Beadie’ serial-killer. He does get to fulfil a more substantial purpose late on though, in a pivotal scene where he ends up acting as some kind of impromptu priest hearing confession and bestowing absolvement from his hospital bed. 
   
Apart from a couple of jolting dream sequences (clearly seized upon by the editor of the trailer, no doubt grateful for being thrown a visual bone or two), the film has the look and feel of a made-for-TV drama. The horrific nature of the crimes is largely swept under the carpet, except for a couple of Googled crime scene images, and could easily be screened at 9pm on any channel without a raised eyebrow. I did like the fact that a potential victim is seen reading an international bestselling novel entitled: ‘Bring me to my knees’ (both an awful foreboding visual pun and perhaps also a dig at the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ phenomena.) 

Stephen King’s literary works have occasionally provided the catalyst for truly memorable big screen conversions, but unlike say Kubrick’s take on the husband as monster premise, A GOOD MARRIAGE is hardly a shining example.

**(out of 5)

Paul Worts