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THE AGE OF INNOCENCE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder
Director: Martin Scorsese
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: Theatrical Trailers
Length: 138 Minutes
Release Date: November 6, 2001

“Are you very much in love with her?”

“As much as any one man can be.”

“Is there such a limit?”

“If there is, I haven’t found it.”

Film ****

The Age of Innocence illustrates more than anything how versatile such a filmmaker can be. When one thinks of the works of Martin Scorsese, perhaps the single greatest director living right now, such darker, edgier pieces come to mind. Films such as Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, and Cape Fear, all of which pound the pulse with dark scenes of violence and brutality. Having watched those films countless times, it seemed that he was always right at home with such material. The Age of Innocence opened my eyes to a whole new atmosphere; one that I thought I’d never see Scorsese create, which is the elegance of New York in 1870.

Watching the film, like many of Scorsese’s film, you are immediately engulfed in an assured place and time. The film opens by introducing it’s lead characters, followed by a brief exhibition of the society they inhabit. The early moments in the movie reminded me very much of the documentary-like feel of the first hour of Scorsese’s Casino. Here, he applies the same technical feel, with narration by Joanne Woodward to help explain how those in the upper class maneuver and go about. At the center of the story is Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) who is engaged to marry the beautiful May Welland (Winona Ryder). It is described as a perfect marriage between two perfect families, and both parties seem to be equally satisfied, until one night at an opera, where Archer meets May’s cousin, the hauntingly beautiful Ellen, the Countress Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). A beauty she is indeed, but that is not necessarily what attracts Archer. Rather it is the notion that she is a person with ideas of her own, looking upon his world with amusement and detachment of an exile. He is entirely excited by a woman who boldly thinks for herself.

The Age of Innocence is film told passionately and filmed beautifully at the hands of a technical master. Scorsese, along with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (GoodFellas, The Last Temptation of Christ) exhibits the settings of this film with such remarkable passion, and it demonstrates that he is capable of making any kind of movie in any kind of setting. Such set pieces as the opera with opens the film, as well as a lavishly executed ballroom dance sequence. This is one film that knows anything and everything about its time and place.

The performances here are extraordinarily passionate as well. Daniel Day-Lewis, one of THE most dynamic actors of our time, immerses himself in the role of Newland Archer; a man who is caught between what is right for him and what he thinks he wants. Michelle Pfeiffer has rarely been as remarkable as she is here as Archer’s supreme desire. Winona Ryder reveals superb depth in her character, especially in the film’s final moments, which ties every loose end together.

The Age of Innocence is a film to be experienced. It’s a true feast for the senses, and a work of pure art.

Video ***1/2

For a movie that contains a breathtaking montage of visual scenery, Columbia Tri Star has issued a much terrific looking transfer. The picture is for the most part, completely clear, and the vivid colors of the film, from the red and yellow of the roses to the flashes of crimson and white that transition scenes, pay off wonderfully good in particular. A few early scenes suffer from some slight grain, but the overall presentation is one worthy of the movie’s dynamic look.

Audio ***1/2

CTS issues a wonderful sounding quality to this disc, in which the primary highlight is the sound of Elmer Bernstein’s beautiful score to the film. The 5.1 presentation also offers impressive moments of picking up of distinct background voices, and Joanne Woodward’s narration comes through nicely as well. An overall impressive transfer for a film you kind of wouldn’t expect one from.

Features *1/2

The only weak spot of the disc. CTS usually includes at least one featurette or retrospective documentary on the making of the film. All that is featured are trailers for this film and three other CTS releases, Sense and Sensibility, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Gandhi.

Summary:

The Age of Innocence is a pure epitome of wonderful cinematic moviemaking. Credit to Martin Scorsese for applying his directorial brilliance, and the wonderful performances from the three leads.