The Ice Storm

If you purchase DVDs because you collect films of merit The Ice Storm is required in your collection

One thing I have always enjoyed about independent films is they are usually more about talent and telling a story than special effects and just throwing money into a film for a big box office. One of the better examples of this is Ang Lee’s ‘ The Ice Storm ’.

Set in a bed room community in Connecticut during the last days of the Nixon administration this film examines morality from two points of view. The first is from the parents, jaded, bored and in marriages that seem to continue by impulse alone, the adults in The Ice Storm are searching for something even though they don’t know what it is. Then there are the teen-age children. Coming of age in a difficult time when the country’s leader is suspected of crimes against the people, their new sexuality comes alive in a time when nothing seems to make sense. Two families are at the center of this screenplay, the Hoods and the Cavers. Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) is a fairly successful man. He has a wife Elena (Joan Allen) and two children Paul (Toby Maguire) and Wendy (Christina Ricci). Ben is having an affair with the wife of their best friends Janey Caver (Sigourney Weaver). Her husband Jim (Jamie Sheridan) is unaware or rather unconcerned about his wife’s infidelity. Wendy is always upset over the events surrounding Watergate while testing her sexuality not only with the older Caver boy Mikey (Elijah Woods) but is explosive obsessed, pre pubescent younger brother Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd). Paul waxes philosophically using the Marvel comic ‘The Fantastic Four’ as a metaphor for life. Don’t discount this dialogue, it actually works. Paul is also in lust with a girl from his boarding school Libbets Casey (Katie Holms). With all this lust and passion flying about none is well placed. Elena is disenchanted with her life and misses the freedom she had as a girl. Aware of her husband’s unfaithfulness she bitterly forces them into participating in a key party where a woman goes home with a man depending upon how’s car keys she picks from a bowl. The story is difficult to explain it must be experienced. The writers weave a tapestry with intertwining plots. Each time I watch The Ice Storm another aspect of the writing becomes apparent to me.

The acting in The Ice Storm is divided into the same generations as the characters. On the adult side there are such great actors as Weaver, Kline, Sheridan and of course, Allen. They each command the screen. In one scene where Ben and Janey had just finished with their adulterous activities, Ben carries on about the problems at work. With a look of pure distaste on her face Weaver states "I already have a husband". These characters are portrayed as so blasé that even in their affairs they are bored with life. Allen is perfectly cast as the wronged wife. Rather than play the usual Hollywood victim she presents a real person. As she watches her daughter on a bike she longs for the simple days of her girl hood and takes off on a bike ride herself. You don’t have to like these characters but you will believe them and even understand a part of them. On the other side is young Hollywood. Perhaps the most successful member of the younger cast here is Maguire. While he is now in Oscar caliber films his incredible talent is evident here. He has control far beyond his young years. Even at the tender years represented in The Ice Storm his talent is beyond most all of his peers. Another star on the rise is Ricci. The Ice Storm is the transition between her child roles like the Addams family movies and Casper the friendly Ghost. In The Ice Storm you can see the qualities that has made her a sought after actor today. She has been in many quality independent films. If fact she is close to replacing Parkey Posey as the ‘Queen of the Indies’. Ricci is another actor that is still learning her craft but she is increasing rapidly as a powerful young actor.

The very eclectic Ang Lee directed this masterpiece. While he is now best known for the Oscar winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, in Ice Storm Lee shows a more artistic side of his abilities. This is a director that can work extremely well with is cinematographer. There are scenes that focus on a branch or road that conveys unbelievable emotion and sets the tone for the film better than any dialogue could. He gives the talented actors under his charge the room to reach deep to portray the emotions required to make the story work and compel the audience to keep watching. While doing this Lee also exhibits a fine degree of control in his style of directing. The scenes are not just shot they are crafted like a painting. While the story is a rather dark one Lee injects a sense of humor at needed points. For example the tension between the parents that is reflected in the teens could have been to heavy to maintain interest. Just when things look really dark he has a scene where Ricci engages in sexual play with Woods while she is wearing a Nixon mask. (Personally I would find that a turn off even with Ms Ricci) Its little touches like this that separates Ang Lee from so many of his contemporaries.

The disc is not what many would consider top notch. I have to disagree. While the audio is only Dolby 5.0 the lack of a sub woofer is hardly noticeable, especially if you have full range speakers for the front and rear. The sound does what it is supposed to do, it moves the film’s emotions always forward. The video is anamorphic 1.85:1. It is crisp and clear. I had the video release of The Ice Storm and was thrilled at the amount of detail I was able to catch on the DVD. Features are light. There is only a little featurette and a trailer. Personally, I enjoy the features but I rather have an excellent film than a poor one with a lot of extras. If you purchase DVDs because you collect films of merit, The Ice Storm is required in your collection.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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