I've read the other reviews about this movie, and I agree with the ones that are positive. The whole point of the story is to demonstrate how boring, hopeless and meaningless the lives of upper class New York Americans were in the latter part of the 19th century. Those people became like beautiful mannequins, dressed sumptuously, having every privilege available then, yet almost totally without freedom to be who they really were. All were imprisoned in what was "acceptable". They could only peer out through the prison bars and dream of what a real life might be like. That's the basis for the story. The actors played their parts impeccably and realistically. So, if everything in the movie seemed boring, unimaginative and tedious, that's is exactly the goal of the storyline. To portray another time, another society that robbed people of real life. After watching this, I felt very blessed to live in this time in history.
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 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 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!
on August 4, 2002
I have viewed this movie nearly 10 times now, and I continue to be captivated by the brilliant performances of the actors. DD Lewis rivets every scene with gracious style, coupled with subtle moments of inner strife (and sometimes silliness) that forces me to search my own archives for these torn and unresolved emotions. After all, it's just acting! But I can't help but be drawn into the emotional undercurrent.
As for W Ryder, what a shockingly incredible performance. I normally find her quite predictable as an actor, yet I found myself guessing whether or not her character was just a sheep, or amazingly brilliant. And I didn't feel cheated.
M 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".
I highly suggest this DVD (movie) to those who care to look at motion pictures intelligently, which purposely refrains from suggesting the NEED to look artistically, although it is very artistic, as well.
on April 9, 2002
Yes it's frilly, filled with lace and stills could pass for photo spreads in Home & Garden. Yet even without Pesci, DeNiro, or foul language, 'The Age of Innocence,' at it's core is quintessential Scorsese. The key thematic is power, it's related hierarchy and about those who wield and fall to it - only this time instead of exercising power through gunplay and violence it is dispensed through mannerism and whispered subterfuge. Scenes with Mrs. Mingott interacting with her friends and family come off reminiscent of Paul Sorvino's character in 'Goodfellas.' All of Scorsese's visual trademarks are also intact with some great tracking shots and loads of loads of rich mise-en-scene. There's so much visual eye candy to take in, in terms of production and art design that multiple viewings are a must.
From a technical standpoint this DVD is a treat and those lucky enough to have a proper TV connected to their DVD players through component cables will truly enjoy the rich, sumputous colors in this most excellent transfer.
on March 18, 2002
Martin Scorsese is a genius. Even his worst films are far superior than almost everyone else's and The Age of Innocence is definitely one of his best. He brilliantly captures the spirit of Edith Wharton's novel without ever falling into melodrama and creates a claustrophobic society preordained by an endless set of rules, a world of seething passions beneath a calm and decorous surface where rebellion of any sort is inconceivable, social and familial considerations are paramount and a veneer of respectability must be maintained at all costs. This is a story about human passions clashing with the artificial rules imposed by society and the characters move in an environment so fragile that "it could be shattered by a whisper".
Martin Scorsese's direction recreates the affluent and extremely oppressive atmosphere of 19th century New York society in remarkable detail. A subtle and perceptive script, brilliant performances by Michelle Pfeiffer, Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder and the rest of the cast (Richard E. Grant, Mary Beth Hurt, Alec McCowen and the excellent Miriam Margolyes are especially good), and fabulous costumes and production design contribute to make this extraordinary film one of the best of its genre. Joanne Woodward's narration is excellent (she gets most of the best lines without ever appearing on screen) and Michael Ballhaus's cinematography is simply stunning - innovative, atmospheric and richly textured. Crisp yet seamless editing, amazing camerawork and beautiful music round off this absolutely brilliant, almost perfect film.
on February 10, 2002
"Age of Innocence" brings together some of the movie industry's finest talent in cinematography, set design, and costuming. For the first hour or so, one can simply bask in the glorious, exquisite, and shamelessly overdone rendition of 19th century New York. By that time, however, it's difficult to fail to notice that the story is going nowhere.
The fact is that the plot and dialogue are vapid, stilted, unsubtle, and boring. Scorsese, at his very best, has a masterful and vicious sense of humor, and had he truly applied such talents to this piece he would have had a satirical spectacle that would have made the great Kubrick wet his pants. Unfortunately, the choice was made to present it as a serious romance, and admittedly as an example of the genre it may be good. But as far as I'm concerned it falls flat on its face. Its flaccid earnestness, unfortunately, joins ranks with the unbearably smug archness of "Barry Lyndon" and the heavy-handed cliche of "Heaven's Gate". Shame on you, Martin!