Modern Classics - The Age of Innocence Review




Directed by Martin Scorsese

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder

The Age of Innocence is set in 19th century New York high society and chronicles the tale of a young lawyer Newland Archer engaged to be married to May Welland. Their well ordered life is upset when Newland falls in love with a lady separated from her husband, the curiously intriguing Countess Olenska. A woman who also happens to be his fiancée’s cousin. The Countess Olenska separation from her abusive husband makes her a social outcast in the restrictive and repressive New York high society.

At first The Age of Innocence seems like an unusual project for Martin Scorsese to embark upon. Prior to 1993 Scorsese was known for films such as the brutal yet brilliant Taxi Driver and Goodfellas; a far cry from the New York society he was to bring to life. However any reservations are soon put to bed within the first couple of scenes. From the outset The Age of Innocence exhibits exquisite and elaborate style and panache which showcases the opulent period for what it was. But whilst it seems beautiful and pristine from the outside, society was riddled with hypocrisy, injustice and artificiality. In the same vane, our characters may seem like statuesque models of perfection, but inside are concealing desires and beliefs that society would not allow them to express.

Living in a conservative age full of airs and graces Newland finds himself trapped by his social circle as well as his views of what he wants to do and what he ought to do. Daniel Day-Lewis once again settles into the period with remarkable ease. You can’t help but think that he was made for this type of high society gentleman with his lithe gait and courteous and thoughtful façade. He is surprisingly glacial in some respects also and reminiscent of something Barry Norman once said. “I think Daniel is a very fine actor indeed, very versatile and he genuinely pursues roles which appeal to him rather than for commercial reasons which is hugely commendable. My only query is that there seems to be a coldness to him. There is a distance put between himself and the audience. Some of the biggest Hollywood stars, most of whom couldn’t hold a candle to Daniel acting wise, still project warmth.” Ironically enough though, the aloof detachment with which he plays Newland Archer is perfect. Daniel Day-Lewis is a fine actor, an immaculate actor to be feared and respected but the lack of warmth is representative of how society commanded people to be. Similarly both Ryder and Pfeiffer embody polar opposites of the time period. Whilst the Countess Olenska exudes an exotic and refreshing excitement, May comes across as innocent and childlike; but perhaps all isn't what it seems.

As one of Scorsese’s most underrated movies, The Age of Innocence is one of those films that, personally speaking, improves with time and possible consequent viewings. It’s beautiful, heart breaking and poignant. In a world of tradition. In an age of innocence. They dared to break the rules.

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