The Age of Innocence was, as I can best attribute, Martin Scorsese’s attempt to show what he could do outside the genre of New York/mob/tough guy films he was until then known for. For whatever reason, he decided upon an 1870s period piece (funnily enough, still set in New York), starring patron saint of acting Daniel Day-Lewis, along with Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. The story is easy enough: Day-Lewis is a aristocratic lawyer of the highest social class, engaged to Ryder’s character, who meets Pfeiffer, a slightly more out-of-the-box woman who proceeds to shake up his foundations and plans for the future. Now he must decide whether to stay within conventions by marrying his fiancee, or follow his passions with this new woman in his life. Simple, and rather predictable, or then again, is it?.
It’s the manner in which this one goes about presenting its material that may, to put it best, not be enough for some people. Everything that happens in this film happens in a very reserved manner, as if the film itself were holding back on the power and emotion that it could’ve brought to the table (but, looking at the source material and the setting, this is a bit more understandable). This often means that we expect more from The Age of Innocence than what we end up getting, but even still, there’s plenty to like about the film. Scorsese’s manner of an intrinsically mobile camera lends itself very well to the ornate nature of the cinematography necessary for such a film as this. The production value and art direction is, to be expected, exquisite, but what less is expected from such an extravagant period piece? And, of course, the acting; Day-Lewis is, of course, damn near perfect, though this was probably one of the easier roles for him to dissolve into, and Winona Ryder was a bit of a surprise at times. What was a bit questionable was the use of voiceover to convey the lion’s share of the information, which is a bit of a cop-out in terms of writing, but to each his own.
I think the biggest qualm I had with this is one that I’ve had with a few films in the past: the central romance is forced along into happening, even when the characters themselves don’t appear to be falling in love. There’s just one scene where they’re acquainted, and then the next scene, they’re confessing their love to each other and how it cannot be, etc. In reading some books about screenwriting, what’s always suggested more often than not is to not force the characters to tell your story if it is not what they would do; let the characters tell the story to you instead – if they turn in a different direction, go with it and see how the story unfolds that way, but don’t stick rigidly to the initial idea you wanted to express if the characters you form want to go off on their own tangents. The screenwriter(s) of this film, like the others I’ve seen that make this mistake, would do well to heed such advice; otherwise, you get a film like this, where the central tenet to the main angle of the story just isn’t believable, and so the rest of the film has no keystone to support its weight.
I guess the novelty of having Martin Scorsese direct a Victorian-era picture of the astute noble class is enough to get this picture on the list, but I can understand why it was removed to make way for new entries. For one, aside from the lavish production value and stellar ensemble, there’s really very little underneath the workings and style to distinguish this from any other film of its kind. For another, the list already has the Merchant Ivory production of A Room with a View (which, humorously enough, also stars Day-Lewis), so to have this as well seems rather redundant. But, it did make it initially, and watching it, though I grew bored a number of times when the action slowed down, I enjoyed it enough to make it through the whole thing, but that’s about all I can say for it. As long as you don’t really hate period piece-y romantic dramas like this one, and if you don’t have a problem with the length, you should get through it just fine as well.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10