A Good Marriage tells the tale of Bob and Darcy Anderson (Anthony LaPaglia and Joan Allen), a nice New Hampshire couple where the husband has a not so nice secret life. The Andersons seem so ordinary, even dull. Bob's an accountant who collects rare pennies. Darcy is the wife of an accountant who collects rare pennies.
The couple has an easy familiarity with each other. Life is good. Their biggest concern is their daughter's upcoming wedding. True, Bob is often away on business trips - he's the ace accountant of his company so he's often sent out on assignments, and there's usually a coin sale somewhere nearby, so sometimes he'll be away for a day extra - but Bob and Darcy have one of those comfortable relationships where a few days apart is fine.
They seem to enjoy a nice arrangement in the bedroom, too. He calls her his "bad girl," she calls him "her naughty boy." They probably don't have sex all the time, but when they do it's still fun. Their quiet existence comes to an end one day when Darcy is nosing around in the garage and finds the IDs of 12 local women who have been murdered by a serial killer. Why does Bob have them?
She's heard about a killer terrorizing the area, a bad egg known as "Beadie," who tortures his victims. None of this is shown, it's merely alluded to on news reports. She also finds bondage magazines in hubby's hideout, and recalls that Beadie ties his victims up before he rapes and kills them. It seems her husband is not just a killer, but someone who enjoys the pain and suffering of others.
So here's what she does. She cries. Not only is her life as she knew it suddenly over, but the man she thought she knew is not that man at all. It's a lot to take in. When Bob returns from his latest road trip, as Ricky Ricardo used to say, he'll have a lot of 'splainin' to do.
The problem is that Bob is perfectly willing to explain himself. Rather than deny that he's a murderer, he sadly confesses to his horrible sideline as the Ted Bundy of the New Hampshire suburbs. He tells her how he'd always wanted to try killing a woman, ever since a pair of snooty girls turned him and his buddy down for a date back in high school. So he tried it and kind of liked it. He confesses casually, like someone describing their first cigarette. She looks at him with unbelieving eyes as he tells his story, and then she goes to sleep. We begin to realize that the movie is going to be slightly different than what we'd imagined it would be.
She has nightmares, as we knew she would. He wants forgiveness, and a chance to keep the marriage intact. They try to keep thing together, maybe for the sake of the children. In a way, they act as if he's simply had an affair with a neighbor and they're trying to keep it quiet, sweep it under the rug and forget about it. He walks around with a hangdog expression, like a husband caught doing something naughty. Naughty, indeed. But can he really stop killing women, now that he's had a taste?
A Good Marriage is a lightweight movie, held together by a simple question: Can they stay together after Bob admits he's a murderer of several women? Yet, even though it feels simple, and even a bit lifeless as some critics have pointed out, it worked pretty well for me. Director Peter Askin creates a mild sense of suspense here, not of the Hitchcock kind, but of a more contemporary, made-for-TV variety. "This isn't like one of those movies where the crazy husband chases the wife around the house," Bob says at one point. He's perhaps referencing The Shining, but he could also be talking about one of those clunkers on the Lifetime network.
The movie was written by Stephen King based on one of his shorter pieces, and while it's not up to his best work, there are some familiar King tropes on display, namely the husband who has done something bad. The fact that the only violence we see for most of the movie is when Darcy has her TV on to a violent movie, and a character is torturing a woman. The torture of females, King seems to be telling us, has become just another form of entertainment. But what does it mean when it all comes home, and your penny collecting hubby is as bad as the psychopaths on the telly?
A lot of the credit goes to Allen and LaPaglia, who do seem like a suburban married couple. I really did feel that they care for each other. LaPaglia is particularly good, showing just the right amount of menace mixed in with pathos. I believed he wanted to keep his marriage going. I also believed he could choke somebody.
I remember seeing Joan Allen many years ago in an off-Broadway show opposite John Malkovich. I always felt they would both become big stars. They've done well, but frankly, I've always felt they were too good, and too unique, for Hollywood. It was good to see Allen here, showing a lot of heart and intelligence. Some critics have said she is too cold in this movie, but I think she was playing a character who had no choice but to shut herself off. After all, she's sleeping with a killer.
There's a third act involving an old retired cop who suspects Bob is the killer, but that part of the movie feels tacked on. King has always had a weakness for burned out authority figures, old cops and the like. But while this part of the movie doesn't amount to much, it doesn't hurt, either.
There could be an excellent movie made about a serial killer who is actually a loving family man. It so happens that many of them are. They aren't all living alone in cabins. Some, like Bob Anderson, are reasonably normal men. Yes, an excellent movie could be made. A Good Marriage may not be that movie, but it will do for now. It's thought provoking, well acted, and is better than fifty percent of the movies I've seen this year.
It's because of Allen and LaPaglia, actors who can rise above middling material, and seem like real characters we can care about.
A Good Marriage isn't perfect, but there's not a moment when Bob and Darcy stop being real, and believable.