It was a glittering, sumptuous time when hypocrisy was expected, discreet infidelity tolerated, and unconventionality ostracized.
That is the Gilded Age, and nobody knew its hypocrises better than Edith Wharton. And while you wouldn't expect Martin Scorsese to be able to pull off an adaptation of her novel "The Age of Innocence," this movie is a trip back in time to the stuffy upper crust of "old New York," taking us through one respectable man's hopeless love affair with a beautiful woman -- and the life he isn't brave enough to have.
Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), of a wealthy old New York family, has become engaged to pretty, naive May Welland (Winona Ryder). But as he tries to get their wedding date moved up, he becomes acquainted with May's exotic cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has dumped her cheating husband.
At first the two are just friends, but after Newland marries May, the attraction to the mysterious Countess and her free, unconventional life becomes even stronger, but he's still mired in a 100% conventional marriage, job and life. Will he become an outcast and go away with the beautiful countess, or will he stick with May and the safe, dull life that he has condemned in others?
Yeah, I kind of blinked when I found out that the subtle, bittersweet Wharton novel set in a gilded upper-crust New York... was being directed by the guy who also did "Raging Bull" and "The Gangs of New York." But fortunately Scorses sticks closely to the original novel -- we even have an omniscient narrator who quotes directly from Wharton's book as she describes New York society.
He preserves Wharton's portrayal of New York in the 1870s -- opulent, cultured, pleasant, yet so tied up in tradition that few people in it are able to really open up and live. It's a haze of ballrooms, gardens, engagements, and careful social rituals that absolutely MUST be followed, even if they have no meaning.
And he delicately brings out the powerful half-hidden emotions that the story revolves around. One great example: a sexy carriage ride where Newland slowly unbuttons Ellen's glove and gently kisses her pale wrist -- it's sensual and erotic without being explicit.
Day-Lewis gives the awesome performance you would expect -- his Newland is stiff and repressed, and nowhere near as awesomely unconventional as he thinks himself to be. Pfeiffer and Ryder don't physically look like May and Ellen, but they give excellent performances: Ryder plays a seemingly innocent, naive young woman who shows hints that she's a lot smarter than Newland thinks, while Pfeiffer plays a more worldly noblewoman who craves love and kindness.
"The Age of Innocence" is an exquisite painting of 19th-century New York's upper crust -- the hypocrisy, the beauty, and the sorrow. If only Scorsese would make more movies like this.
on April 13, 2002
Boring, monotonous, tedious, irksome, tiresome. This is one of the most dull films i've ever seen. I'm never so harsh with any picture, but i was expecting a film with a little more life. Ok, this is not "The Matrix", so i wasn't expecting to see special effects or a big body count. I knew it was a movie about emotions and feelings. I saw it at the cinema with my (then) girlfriend (now my wife).... But the actors fail to show any emotions, most of the time you'll notice a small smirk, an unnoticeable frowning or a tear, but nothing else. Well, you'll supose that this would reflect the inner suffering of the characters instead of emotional displays, but it fails miserably to evoke any emotion in the viewer. The movie moves slow (even when we are used to Scorcese's slow pacing with sudden deployment of energy and speed), and the story ends in the most pathetical way. I know that probably my review would be different if i had read the book before i saw the movie, but, alas, a movie is a movie and a book is a book. They have different languages and ways to tell the story. A clear example is "The Lord Of The Rings": the book is rather slow and dense, but the director was able to extract the most important feelings and passages and make a dynamic movie out of it.
You may wonder ¿ did your wife like the movie ? Well, actually she liked it at the cinema, but a few years later, she couldn't even remember if she ever saw it. Even when i told her some passages of the movie, she wasn't even able to recall a single image. That's probably the movie's worst defect: it goes into your system, doesn't get ever digested, and you'll quickly forget it. It's like adding more fiber to your diet, it will only help to make you remember that meat always taste better.
If you don't believe me yet, try watching the first 3 or 4 minutes of the movie: nothing ever happens, and nothing gets your attention. I had more fun writing this review than watching the movie. At least, we can learn that a great cast, a great a director, and a great book, don't necessarily make a great movie.
on March 18, 2002
Martin Scorsese is the master of films with a brutish attitude. The Last Tempatation of Christ felt more like a twist on Ridley Scott's Gladiator with a whacked out plot. To say the least Scorsese's productions are driven by strong robust performances and in this acclaimed Scorsese piece the cast does not dissappoint with morose glamour(but nothing more). Moreover the film itself feels Whartonesque, kind of. Day Lewis is the only one who seems at home with this genre. Scorsese, the producers and the cast as a whole however are way out of their league here. In typical American film fashion actors and actresses are "trained" to perform their roles. However after watching other films that target a similar audience such as the recent Gosford Park, Remains of the Day and even BBC/A&E Pride and Prejudice all of which are perfectly performed by experts, one would label the characters as paper thin. Anybody who has seen these films will scoff at the languid pace and delivered lines of AOI. They say their lines as if read not spoken. All subtlety is lost in the scripting and to my final point, the biggest Scorsese mistake. Whack the narrator. One of the biggest flops in movie history is Dune a narrated piece that disgraces the legacy of the literature. Narrators are for stupid audiences that need to be educated lecture style and "entertained" in the same medium. You learn by observing in films such as P&P and Gosford Park. I mean come on, look at Altman's masterpiece where the scenes are so real with multiple conversations keeping you on your toes. I will have to see it several more times to catch everything. The narrator simply ruins any involvement the viewer may have had with the piece. In my opinion it also ruins the attempts of an adequate score to develop the emotion of the scenes. One thing Scorsese has never had is touch. It's all about whoosh and whiz, welcome to Vaudeville gypsy style hurrah. In the end he has only created a decent portrayal of a written work but has never interjected ANY of his own feelings on the subject. Try the recent rendition of Mansfield Park if you want something with some spicy flavors. It truly adds a spin, though inaccurate, to the work. Inexperienced and unsophisticated moviegoers may get involved with these characters but I've been spoiled by far too many superior performances.
on February 15, 2004
In THE AGE OF INNOCENCE where monogamy is highly regarded in upscale society, divorce is needless to say an intolerable embarassing resort to broken marriage. But there are few who dared to determine it and make their own destiny, thus a story of love revolution or so called betrayal is told.
This is an immensely sentimental film casting some of the best character-portraying screen performers at that time. The younger Daniel Day-Lewis with masculine jaw lines and features is the clear choice for the perfectly chivalrous yet fragile aristocrat gentleman Newland Archer. His instant choice of wife, the forever decently sweet and optimistic May Welland is played by no one else but the well known innocent ageless princess-like Winona Ryder. While May's bold, flirtatious cousin Countess Olenska is forbidden siren Michelle Pfeiffer, blonde with every curl desirable.
Pay attention to many details of the beautiful 19th century New York backdrop setting to the very end of the film. And the stunning head titles design, a slowly racing work of blossoming roses.
on January 4, 2004
In THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, Martin Scorsese has abandoned his
oft-tread mileu, the mean streets of present-day New York, for a period and setting that some have speculated would be more appropriate subject matter for a Merchant-Ivory film.
But New York is New York and Mr. Scorsese seems as mesmerized by the New York of the 19th Century as he is by the New York of the 20th. Edith Wharton's dry, satiric prose is given an erotic bloom, bursting blossoms and vivid colors splashing across the
screen with an energetic immediacy that Mr. Scorsese usually reserves for graphic bloodletting. The struggle of Newland Archer, as played by Daniel Day-Lewis, between a boundless liberalism and the strict, repressive society around him is present in this fine actor's every gesture. To contrast his performance here with his wild, ferocious work in Scorsese's GANGS OF NEW YORK is to bear witness to an almost absurd level of versatility. Winona Ryder is somewhat miscast but conveys ample complexity. It is Michelle Pfeiffer's radiant performance that sets the picture ablaze, though. You want to drown in her eyes, even as the world is crushing her with every spin.
on November 24, 2003
Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Edith Wharton's exquisite tragedy of manners "The Age of Innocence" is a lush, meticulously staged, heartbreakingly gorgeous but hideously painful experience to watch: it is a tale of two young people, lured away from societal restraint and social decency by Passion, ensaring themselves in a Death Trap, one that will claim their lives, reputations, and souls.
Watching "The Age of Innocence" is like watching some glorious rare bird, entrapped in a gilded, gem-studded cage, fight its way to freedom---even though the bars of the cage bristle with diamond shards and daggers. We know the bird is doomed; we know the wages of Passion is Death. We watch anyway, transfixed.
Published in the 1920's, Edith Wharton's "Age of Innocence" was a scrupulous study of a society that had already been obliterated by a rapidly changing, far less 'innocent' continental Republic. In the novel and the movie, we are ensconced in unspoken yet binding social contrivances of New York of the 1870's, and quickly introduced to a bizarre menage a trois of striking characters: Newland Archer (played to the nuanced, agonized hilt by Daniel Day Lewis), a young and bold attorney, comfortably settled in New York society yet not a leading light; May Welland (played all sweetness and light---and cunning---by an effective Winona Ryder), born into a solid family, a blithe spirit projecting innocence, and Newland's fiancee; and the Countess Ellen Olenska (played by Michelle Pfeifer, in a role tailor-made for her), May's cousin, a New Yorker ensnared in a marriage of convenience to a disreputable European count of dissolute habits and degenerate nature.
Archer, initially suspicious and disapproving of the unconvential and slightly disreputable Countess Olenska, succumbs quickly to her charms and is smitten; passion unfolds; disaster, precictably, follows.
This intricately crafted, meticulously guilded Age of Innocence is made innocent, of course, by its merciless social strictures, its severe, sere social codes. Scorsese introduces us to this beautiful, fragile, wickedly punishing bell jar of social mores and etiquette, delves deep into its evanescent detail, its galleries of paintings and tapestries, its sitting rooms of studied gentlemen cutting and lighthing their cigars, its panoply of dinner plates and intricately crafted repasts.
"The Age of Innocence" follows the excruciatingly painful, totally surreptious battle waged between Olenska and her would-be lover Newland Archer versus Decent Society. Scorsese has a deft, steady hand here: the visions of 1870's New York high society are so clear, so rich, so lush, so vibrant that they bring tears to your eyes; kudos should go to Scorcese's faithful German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus ("Goodfellas", "Gangs of New York"), who also produced the riveting lushness of Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula"---small wonder "Age of Innocence" resembles 'Dracula' in atmosphere, richness, and ambience.
But whereas Coppola's bloodsuckers drank the blood of their unwitting prey, Scorsese's vampires feast on the reputation and integrity of their fallen victims. This is a meticulously balanced society in which social regard and worth is measured in thank-you notes and milliseconds; it is an artificial construct, perfectly presented by Scorsese, which is as unbearably, unworkably fragile as it is judgmental.
The acting here is uniformly solid: Daniel Day-Lewis is note-perfect as the conflicted Archer, Pfeifer woefully diplomatic as the frustrated Olenska, Ryder confident in her role as a latter-day Machiavelli on the Hudson, all smiles and naive charm. Backing up the leads is a veritable host of veteran actors, including Richard Grant as the sneering Larry Lefferts, Miriam Margolyes as a shrewd but effusive Mrs. Mingott, the impeccable Stuart Wilson as the mustachio-twirling "villain" Julius Beaufort (an engine of destruction for this 'age of innocence'), and a besieged Mary Beth Hurt as Beaufort's long-suffering wife.
As painful as first love, as acute as the death of a beloved friend, "The Age of Innocence" is a breathtaking, living, breathing work of art. But the casual viewer, unarmed for its force, should beware: here be Dragons.
on November 22, 2003
Martin Scorsese has made a masterpiece here. His long shots coupled with the exquisite costumes and glorious scenes are breathtaking. Ryder gives a shockingly incredible performance. Pfieffer follows suit, as I had this inner plea for her to win all that she sought.
The supporting cast (including bit players) were also perfectly placed and helped create this piece into "Master".
This film is truly a feast for the eyes, creating a visual world that perfectly reveals the society in which it is set. More importantly, the screenplay draws us into a world where emotion and its expression are defined by the rules of class. Subtlety and depth are keywords for the story in this film, and the actors compliment the presentation by giving well rounded, natural, and believable performances. Oscar Nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Music Score and Best Apated Screenplay. Oscar Winner for Best Costumes. Fans of Martin Scorsese might love this and others think this is Scorsese`s Oddest Film.
on November 20, 2003
A lush, period film....overly well-mannered characters...dialogue often not spoken much above a whisper....and this film was directed by Martin Scorsese, director of Goodfellows, the ultimate wiseguys movie about gangsters???? What's going on here??? What would a famed Mafiosi director know about a period comedy set in 1870's New York high society? Well, quite a bit, actually. Reportedly, Scorsese BEGGED for the chance to direct this epic, saying he grew up in a such a society, and understood it better than almost anyone else. The close-knit families, the strict codes of conduct and honor, a highly structured society lorded over by the most elite families; in short, there are many, many similarities between Edith Wharton's New York and Martin Scorsese's Big Apple. Wharton's society mavens use whispers and rumours instead of bullets to leave their heart scars, but the effect is the same: one must conform to this highly structured society or leave it. Daniel Day-Lewis is Newland Archer, the rising young lawyer and member of New York society whose evenings are spent at fancy-dress balls, the opera, and other social events. He marries beautiful but seemingly simple May Welland, played by Winona Ryder, and settles into a life most of us would envy. However, there is just one thing missing from this well-ordered world: passion. That passion comes from Europe one day in the person of the Countess Olenska, a cousin of May's separated from her loveless marriage to an aristocratic husband. There is an immediate attraction between Archer and Olenska, and as he and May seek to redeem her place in society, the two childhood friends begin an affair that, given the time and place and their stations in life, is doomed to fail. Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer are fabulous as the lovers, seeking to keep their encounters hidden from the rest of society. They are really soul-mates more than lovers, Olenska bringing to Archer's life the joire de vive that the always-prim and proper May can never give him. Winona Ryder is an absolute revelation as May. Everytime she comes on screen, the viewer is left to wonder: how much does she know and when does she find out? This high drama unfolds before one of the most sumptuous settings ever captured on film; the art and set decorators reportedly used period paintings to ensure the right look. Scorsese allows the story to unfold at a natural pace, just like reading a relaxing novel, except few novels contain a passion so tightly restrained that the characters are in eminent danger of making their entire world collapse for want of relief. There are plenty of delicious supporting characters as well; Mary Beth Hurt and Stuart Wilson as the Beauforts, another couple who broke this society's taboos and find themselves covered in shame; Michael Gough and Alexis Smith as the van der Luydens, the most influential family in New York, who do not fail to come to the Countess' aid in her time of need; and, best of all, Miriam Margolyes as society doyenne Mrs. Manson Mingott, providing much needed comic relief with her grand, imperious manner and her passel of pooches. Joanne Woodward makes a wonderful narrator to this intriguing world as the action unfolds at a stately pace through time and space (stately, but never boring!), finally climaxing in a Paris street scene that is incredibly moving in it's heartbreaking simplicity. So, if you want a fast-paced action thriller with plenty of explosions, go elsewhere. However, if carefully-paced, unrequited passion is your game, then get The Age of Innocence today. This movie just might leave a few scars on your heart!
on November 15, 2003
I actually saw this movie when it was released in 1993, and honestly it was pretty dull then. Of course I was 22, and the workings of that late-1800's New York society really didn't make much sense or have much relevance.
I think the film may have been ignored at its release because of the slew of other "period pieces" which were so popular (an eventually common) in the late 80's/early 90's... But watching it again 10 years later, this film is anything but common.
The true intensity is Scorcese's detached presentation of a hypocritical & hateful society which holds its members as prisoners.
Not to mention impeccable art direction & beautiful cinematography by the legendary Michael Ballhaus. The film looks as impressionistic as the paintings that line the walls of the characters' homes.
Scorsese is always acute in his casting decisions, and this is one of the films many virtues:
Lewis is perfect as a man who's struggle between his passion & his duty are constantly on the verge of devouring him (yet somehow he thrives on his torture).
Ryder is the seemingly innocent & naive girl who is completely manipulative & cunning underneath her exterior (gee, who would have thought?!) -- notice the arching scene.
In a sense, this was one of Pfeiffer's defining roles. Pfeiffer herself (in a sense) is an "outcast" who has never truly been accepted as a "serious" actress by her peers in the acting community. Watching this film again, it amazes me how this role somehow reflects her personal position in the current social structure of Hollywood, similar to her character existing in 1800's New York society.
What an amazing pic. I completely "missed it" the first time around. Great observance of "high society." Many of those codes are strangely applicable today.
Not recommended for those who like fast paced movies, or those who are looking for the "usual Scorcese." I would couple this with "Last Temptation of Christ" as Scorsese's most brave, artistic, demanding & abstract films to date.
on March 27, 2003
Based on the novel by Edith Warton, "The Age of Innocence" is the story of a corrupt lover's triangle. Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a young barrister who is engaged to Meg Welland (Wynonna Ryder) but ends up lusting after her cousin, Countess Olenska (Michelle Pfieffer) instead. Director, Martin Scorsese paces the film like Warton's book, slowly, methodically but with an attention to details that is as captivating as it is compelling to watch. No one wants to see the countess divorced though everyone is hoping that she will break apart Newland's marriage so that the scandal of it all will make for interesting dinner conversations and parlour speculation. This is grand entertainment, told with a masterful hand and celebrated with great depth of emotion and character.
Columbia's transfer of the film is an adequate attempt, though there is excessive loss of fine detail in many of the scenes due to overuse of noise reduction video equipment. Some minor edge enhancement and pixelization appear sporadically throughout but nothing that will distract. Colors are warm, well balanced and rich throughout. The sound is amply presented and spacially natural sounding. We don't get any extras with this disc, a real shame!