If trust, love and fidelity are words you use to describe the ideal marriage, then Intolerable Cruelty may prove to be a harsh look at the whole concept of matrimony. There's no "happily ever after" here, unless you're the one who walks out of the nuptials with all the money.
For Miles Massey (George Clooney), a high-powered, show-no-mercy divorce lawyer, letting his clients go away penniless isn't an option. He's the company's top biller and is so good at prenuptial agreements that Harvard Law School has devoted a whole semester to study his tactics. No case is too messy, no evidence too strong, no challenge too big for this hard-hearted, fact-twisting attorney and his assistant, Wrigley (Paul Adelstein).
However, the jaded and bored legal representative has his wits tried when Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann), a philandering husband comes scurrying into his office. Caught on videotape in a compromising spot, the well-heeled real estate tycoon wants some legal advice on how to protect his financial fortune from his separation-seeking spouse. Resorting to methods that should easily have him disbarred, Miles scrounges around for enough dirt on the current Mrs. Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to have her gold-digging case swept under the rug, leaving her wayward husband's riches intact.
But Marilyn isn't about to be "ex-ed" so easily. In a social circle where wealthy women discuss their discarded husbands as flippantly as last season's fashions, a girl can't afford to be cast off without a sizeable compensation in her hand. Resorting to her own rules of engagement, she's about to teach the masterful Miles Massey he's not the only cool-handed professional in the competitive game of love.
Although Clooney, Zeta-Jones and others offer some comedic momentum to this tale, the bottom line is that marriage is only a temporary rung on the ladder to being independently wealthy. Relationships are torn up and tossed aside as easily as the paper the prenuptial agreements are written on. Deceit, lies and unfaithfulness are promoted as common fare in wedded bliss. Parents may also cringe at the abundant profanities, lingerie clad girls, and a self-inflicted gunshot that results in death.
Willingly trading tit-for-tat in the battle for alimony and assets, Miles and Marilyn's acrimonious interactions do little to uphold the sanctity of marriage. For them, the union is merely a legal license to inflict intolerable cruelty.