WHAT I LIKED: Earlier in his career, you might have been forgiven for calling Scorsese a fairly naturalistic filmmaker. In pictures like 'Raging Bull,' he generally left his camera moving at a relative distance from his characters; letting them live out their everyday lives objectively for us to slowly understand them and their worlds. In the 80s and 90s though, he started to make increasingly overt commentaries on his subjects and to very directly manipulate his atmosphere and themes. If you, say, compare Mean Streets with Goodfellas, the latter passes far more judgement on its gangsters by ironically and very directly drawing attention to how far everyone is going to convince themselves that they're ok, whereas in Mean Streets we simply understand the distance between their obligations and their conscience by their actions.
His 'Age of Innocence,' adaptation about 19th Century high-society is perhaps the epitome of this development in his style, as it not only does everything in its power to highlight the dichotomy of its characters' situations, but it spends most of its time straight-out belittling their world.
It helps that, even more so than Henry and Karen Hill, Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) are central characters very clearly struggling with the obligations of the environment they live in. They continually criticise the structures that forbid them from letting their true feelings (both generally and for each other) show, and they're forced to play the part like the prim and proper socialites around them. That scathing emphasis on the trappings of this upper class world is unlocked far beyond that though. Conversations between the ellaborately-dressed lords and ladies are staged and lit to look deliberately robotic and forced, characters often address the camera in monologue, the music swells around the silver-dripped sets to make everything seem even more absurd, and an unnamed narrator offers entirely subjective, sarcastic exposés of the mechanics of everyone's plans and even their inner feelings.
That gives the piece a highly satirical quality which, above all, unlocks an amusing and rather thought-provoking deconstruction of this high-society world in much the same way as 'Goodfellas,' did for its all-too-similar mafia. When we then meet Archer and Olanska many years later at the end of the film and they've both given into becoming everything they originally felt trapped by, it broadens the reach of the film's commentary and suggests that even the most two-dimensional socialites have some humanity trapped deep within them.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: The degree to which the film engages on an emotional level is restricted by the fact that we don't get to see much below even the central pair's obligatory facades. Most of the time they're playing a role, and though the inner turmoil is expertly portrayed by Day-Lewis and Pfeiffer, it's hard to truly empathise with them as a result.
VERDICT: Scorsese's 'Age of Innocence,' epitomises the theatrical, subjective side of his abilities in a scathing commentary of the trappings and absurdity of 19th Century high-society.