Play It Again – The Age of Innocence

Play It Again – The Age of Innocence. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated G. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

This month, we’re reviewing some choice cuts from the filmography of one Martin Scorsese.

It may seem unusual to begin our month of Martin Scorsese films with a rather weak entry, though its five Oscar nominations and one Oscar win may suggest otherwise. Perhaps it is best to start at the bottom and work our way up, and so we begin with Scorsese’s departure from his trademark exhibition of blood and violence with 1993’s The Age of Innocence.

Faithfully adapted from Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel from 1920, the movie is set in the opulent world of 1870s New York. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Newland Archer, a lawyer engaged to May Welland (Winona Ryder in an Academy Award nominated performance), a socialite. When May’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives in town seeking a divorce from her abusive husband, Newland begins to question his relationship with May and his feeling for Ellen. Though Ellen is, at first, ostracised by society, Newland’s decision to be with her or May rests on whether he follows his heart or societal expectations, learning in the long run that his belief he had the freedom to choose was misjudged.

If it’s possible to call a 19th century-set picture dated, there’s no denying that even for a period film fanatic like myself, The Age of Innocence plods along and rarely hits the right notes, aided by a monotonous narration from Joanne Woodward. Of course when it does excel, through one of the wonderful lead performances, it becomes electrifying and is lifted beyond an exceptionally beautiful looking production. What it does achieve consistently is a sumptuous use of colour, costumes, and sets to recreate this exquisite world. Individual scenes linger after viewing, such as the pack of men attempting to walk into the windstorm, while each holding onto their hat for dear life.

Perhaps Scorsese’s adaptation is too faithful to the original text, weighing in at just over two hours; but despite the performances, the lush cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, or even the evocative original music by Elmer Bernstein, The Age of Innocence meanders and by the much-needed climax interest in the characters has all but been lost.

The Age of Innocence is available on DVD, and can be streamed via Quickflix’s WatchNow service.

2 Responses to “Play It Again – The Age of Innocence”

  1. I absolutely disagree with the reveiwer. “Age of Innocence” is sublime. It is the exception the the rule and therefore proves how great Scorsese is as a filmmaker. It is heartbreakingly beautiful and does the book proud.

  2. I agree with Jules!! I love everything about this film and have watched it over and over again!

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