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5.0 out of 5 stars Scorcese's best film, 20 Jun 2012
This review is from: The Age Of Innocence [DVD] [2001] (DVD)
A stuffy young lawyer and socialite approaching his fashionable society wedding finds himself emotionally conflicted when his scandalous cousin returns unexpectedly from a broken marriage in Europe.

Though it may hardly seem it at first glance, Martin Scorcese's faithful adaptation of Edith Wharton's classic study of upper class New Yorkers in the 1870s is actually something of a companion piece to his Gangster epic Goodfella's, made three years earlier.

Like that bloody Mafia saga, this sumptuous film is less interested in plot than in a minute dissection of lifestyle among a particular social group. Scorsese wants to know what they wear, where they live, what they eat, where they go, and above all how the rigid rules and manners of their society determine what they are and how they behave.

The story is a tragi-comic catalogue of missed opportunities as stiffly formal lawyer Daniel Day-Lewis prepares to marry sweet but vacuous Winona Ryder to unanimous social approval. Unexpectedly, he finds himself falling for scandalous second cousin Michelle Pfieffer, who has had the audacity to walk out on her marriage to a philandering European Count.

Warily they begin an emotionally intense yet hesitant affair; Day-Lewis never quite having the courage to turn his back on the conformity that dictates his life and the path that he is expected to follow. Pfeiffer is bolder and more reckless, but financially dependant on New York relatives whose approval she must keep in order to stop them packing her back to the errant but repentant husband.

Long, slow but always engrossing and full of interest, Scorcese displays an almost obsessive eye for period detail and mastery of social observance. These people are virtually prisoners of a largely unspoken yet unshakeable code of behaviour and conduct; the slightest deviation from which can lead to scandal and social alienation. Watching it crush and stifle those who would to defy it - however half-heartedly - is both uncomfortable and at times subtly comic.

Day-Lewis is perfect as the well meaning but faint-hearted lawyer who never quite has the strength to follow his heart, and he gets great support from everyone around him. A special mention should go to Joanne Woodward's narration, which perfectly captures Wharton's dry wit and irony.
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