AGE OF INNOCENCE
Reviewed March 28th, 2002 by David Nusair
Age of Innocence, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of an Edith Wharton novel, is a veritable feast for the eyes, but the story’s about as entertaining as a fourth grade adaptation of a Neil Simon play.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a 19th century gentleman who, as the movie opens, has just gotten engaged to a well-bred but boring young woman (Winona Ryder). All seems well in their pretty little world, until Ryder’s older cousin (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) comes breezing into town, fresh off a whirlwind tour of Europe. Day-Lewis finds himself intrigued by this woman and her devil-may-care attitude, who dares defy convention by (horror of horrors!) separating from her husband. In a society that depends on illogical and constrictive rules, Pfeiffer’s character is especially unwelcome and looked upon with scorn. The two begin an illicit and forbidden affair, which in 19th century terms means that they gaze longingly at one another and rarely (very rarely) manage to steal a kiss or two.
It’s astonishing that Age of Innocence has been directed by Martin Scorsese, the same man responsible for such classic “guy” flicks like Casino and Cape Fear. And while this movie does occasionally provide a showcase for his visual flair, it’s just dull. Though I’ve never read the book upon which it is based, I have to assume it’s exceptionally faithful because the movie comes off like one of those filmed plays you see on PBS occasionally. The dialogue is stilted and the plot is ridiculously thin – not much tends to happen other than a multitude of boring social gatherings and grand nights out – which may have been acceptable 100 years ago, but now it just doesn’t fly.
The performances are good, though. Day-Lewis never resorts to the over-the-top histrionics that have made him famous (check out his many screaming speeches in The Crucible if you’d like proof), delivering instead a thoughtful and subtle performance. Ryder and Pfeiffer are superb as, respectively, the naïve, spoiled girl and the worldly, experienced woman.
The Age of Innocence makes Scorsese’s own Kundun look like Goodfellas, if that’s any indication.
Audio: This DD 5.1 soundtrack isn’t exactly jaw-dropping, but the source material doesn’t allow it to be. This is a film set mostly in stuffy interior spaces, so expansive is the soundtrack going to be? But to be fair, the ample dialogue is crisp and clear, while the period background music is never intrusive.
Video: This 2.35:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer is perfectly representative of the bright colors employed by Scorsese in presenting this world. The rooms on display are festooned with various ornate curtains, paintings and elaborate pieces of furniture – all of which had to have been difficult to prepare for this disc. But the DVD handles it all with ease, with no color bleeding or saturation. A nice transfer.
Extras: Some filmographies, a trailer, and some bonus trailers (Sense and Sensibility, Dracula, and Gandhi.
Conclusion: Unless you’ve read Wharton’s novel (and loved it) or you’re an obsessive Scorsese fan that must see everything he directs, avoid this one.
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