Directed by Martin Scorsese
Based on the novel “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton
Screenplay by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder
In the late nineteenth century, the rules of high society New York are an unwavering code to live by. This set of rules follows Newland Archer (Day-Lewis) when he becomes engaged to May Welland (Ryder). What he doesn’t expect are the deep feelings he develops when he meets May’s cousin Ellen Olenska (Pfeiffer), a newly separated woman. Now he’s torn between the expectations of the society he lives in, and his overwhelming feelings for Ellen.
This period piece is based on the novel of the same name written by Edith Wharton (Ethan Frome). The story had previously been adapted for films in 1924 and 1934. This screenplay was adapted by Jay Cocks (Gangs of New York) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street). The writing earned Cocks and Scorsese an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Martin Scorsese also took on the film as director. The cast features a trio of talented actors in the lead roles. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Michelle Pfeiffer (The Fabulous Baker Boys), and Winona Ryder (Homefront) play the central figures in this film.
This is a classic story of the expectations of society clashing against the true desires of one man. The writing builds the rules and ethics of the social circles of the time through a number of great scenes. The action and dialogue come together to really solidify the rules of the world. This story does a good job of maintaining a very narrow focus. While the events of the world are happening, there is little notice of this throughout the film. This is a great technique that really shows the insulated nature of the setting of this story. The film moves at a slow but deliberate pace that seems to heighten the tension within the relationships. The writing also allows the injustices of society to be absorbed and understood.
While this is a unique film from Scorsese, with little of the overt brutality of his other works, it is brutal in its own ways. The heartbreak and inner-conflict is powerfully built into the story. The payoff also has a very unique and compelling feel to it. Overall, this is a slow burn that does a great job with the story and the setting.
The acting in this movie is pretty great. I’m a huge Daniel Day-Lewis fan, and this is another great performance by him. His ability to play a man of high society works nicely in building up his character. In addition, he seemed to understand the restraint he needed to place the emotions of his character under. This restrained performance fits in perfectly with the story. Michelle Pfeiffer had a different challenge with her role in this one. She was given a character who, in many ways, was flaunting the rules of society. Within the world of the film she does a great job bringing out a quiet rebellion from her role. She also does a great job with the more sentimental and emotional moments.
Finally, Winona Ryder is great in this one. Her role required an understanding of the emotions of her character, as well as understanding the confined world of the story. Like Daniel Day-Lewis, she was asked to bring out a more restrained performance that really fits into the story. She would earn an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for this movie thanks to her great work.
This film also features some of the best costuming and set design work I’ve seen in a period piece. The film would earn nominations for Best Set Design and Best Costuming, winning the second of the two. In addition, the cinematography is beautiful in this movie. The camera work along with the lighting seem to capture the mood of every scene in the movie. The visuals aren’t the only success in this one. The score by Elmer Bernstein (My Left Foot) sets the mood wonderfully. Like most of the other aspects of the production, this score also seems to wonderfully create the confined or even sheltered environment of high society. This score also earned Bernstein an Oscar nomination.
This is a movie that might not work for everyone. Despite all of the wonderful aspects of it, this is a slower film. If you’re comfortable with a slower pace, make sure to check this one out. I would also suggest this to fans of the stars, or of Scorsese. This is a bit less intense than some of his other works. I would also suggest this one for romance fans. I give this one 4.2 out of 5 stars.