Is this the year of the love quadrangle? We've already had Closer, in which a quartet of dissembling philanderers sought to justify the sexual and emotional betrayals of their partners. Now there's We Don't Live Here Anymore, which features another impressive cast of four in a caustic portrayal of marital implosion.
Based on two short stories from the late Catholic writer Andre Dubus, Larry Gross's script was originally written back in the late '70s and this unflinching domestic drama feels like it could belong to that decade of maverick moviemaking. Here character's get the nod over plot and ambivalent behaviour is subject to scrutiny.
Director John Curran doesn't seek to judge the actions of his characters. Instead, through different perspectives, he conveys the unhappiness that pushed Jack and Edith into their mutual relationship and then considers the various negative emotions triggered by their adultery. No wonder that Jack becomes obsessed with Tolstoy's Ivan Ilyich (the inspiration for Ivansxtc), the story of a man on his deathbed questioning the meaning of his life.
At times, We Don't Live Here Anymore becomes overly schematic in its repeated comparisons between the scrupulously tidy household of Edith and Hank and the messiness of the home shared by Terry and Jack. Also, despite certain visual motifs - red lights above a train crossing and a repeated flashback to an al fresco sexual liaison - the wider social context that enriched another Dubus adaptation, In The Bedroom, is missing from Curran's film.
But it's the vivid performances that bring the material to life. Mark Ruffalo excels as the passive-aggressive husband and his rows with Laura Dern's volatile Terry achieve a stinging intensity. In contrast, Peter Krause (Six Feet Under) plays Hank with smirking self-satisfaction, while Naomi Watts skilfully shows how Edith's demure facade can co-exist with an inner toughness.