wasn’t what audiences expected from a “Martin Scorsese Picture.” A period
“costume drama” with no violence, bloodshed, or curse words? And yet Scorsese
himself described it as one of his most violent films.
is true, perhaps, when one considers the emotional
violence that occurs between the characters in this beautifully-rendered,
but curiously lifeless adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel about New York high
society and manners in the 1870s.
many ways, The Age of Innocence is
one side of a Scorsese coin that includes Gangs
of New York on the other. They both take place in Manhattan in roughly the
same time frame (Gangs is in the
1860s) and focus on two extremes of the social ladder—the upper crust in Age, and the lower class in Gangs.
story is simple—Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a member of New York’s
high society set. He’s a quiet, introverted, but good-looking man who could
probably have any lady he wants. But he has settled on May Welland (Winona
Ryder), a straight-laced younger woman who is practically his equal in
temperance. Enter May’s cousin, Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has come
home from Europe after a bad marriage and—shocking!—is
planning a divorce. In high society of the time, that was tantamount to marking
a woman with a scarlet “A.” Newland becomes infatuated with her and almost
calls off the marriage to May. The gossip mill begins, and lives roll into
turmoil. Does Newland end up doing the right thing by dropping Ellen and
keeping his promise to May? Do we care? In the interest of a no-spoiler review,
I won’t answer either question.
lies the main problem with The Age of
Innocence. While Day-Lewis is easily one of our greatest modern actors, his
role here does not give him much to do but to look forlornly at the two women
in his life. Yes, there is torment in his soul, and the two female leads go
through the same sentiments—but revealing
those emotions was forbidden by society. It was what people did not say to each other that contained the
weight of conflict. It was all kept inside. And, thus, it’s all kept inside the
has declared that Hollywood classics such as The Heiress (1949), Letter
from an Unknown Woman (1948), and other lush, period pieces that were
dramas of manners were his primary influences. And, like these kinds of films, an
omniscient commentator provides voice-over narration in Age, spoken with a tinge of irony by Joanne Woodward.
is much to admire about The Age of
Innocence in terms of visual beauty. The Oscar-winning costumes by Gabriella
Pescucci (who worked with such luminaries as Fellini, Leone, Visconti, and
Pasolini) are stunning, as is the production design by Dante Ferretti (also a
Fellini and Pasolini veteran, among others) and Robert J. Franco. The late Michael
Ballhaus’ cinematography recalls that of Barry
Lyndon’s John Alcott.
Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray highlights these design aspects with
gorgeous assurance in this restored 4K digital transfer approved by Scorsese.
It has a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that shows off Elmer
Bernstein’s opulent score. If anything, The
Age of Innocence is a canvas of breathtaking visual and audio beauty.
include a new and revealing interview with Scorsese; a new interview with
co-screenwriter Jay Cocks; new interviews with Pescucci and Ferretti; a vintage
making-of piece that focuses on Scorsese, Day-Lewis, and the other actors; and
the theatrical trailer. An essay by film critic Geoffrey O’Brien adorns the
the Costume Design Oscar win, the movie was nominated for Best Supporting
Actress (Ryder), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, and Art Direction.
The Age of Innocence does succeed in
showing us another side of Martin Scorsese—one in which the mean streets of New
York are bundled into a waltz, a bouquet of flowers, a bustle, and a kiss on