Movie Review: The Ice Storm -- The 70s didn't enlighten everyone.
The Ice Storm
Directed by Ang Lee.
Starring Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Courtney Peldon, Henry Czerny, Adam Hann-Byrd, David Krumholtz, Tobey Maguire, Jamey Sheridan, Elijah Wood, Sigourney Weaver, Katie Holmes, and Michael Cumpsty.
Written by Rick Moody (novel) and James Schamus.By Vladimir V. Zelevinsky
Out of the three movies directed by Ang Lee that were released in this country, the earliest one, The Wedding Banquet, is a comedy; the second one, Eat Drink Man Woman, is a comedy with elements of drama; the third one, an adaptation of Jane Austens Sense and Sensibility, is a drama with the elements of comedy. This points to the fact that Lee is becoming more and more interested in somber subject matters; his last film proves this conclusively - without a doubt, The Ice Storm is a tragedy. (Lee classifies it as a "disaster movie"; although the disaster here is as much internal and metaphorical as it is natural).
It is not that easy to describe the plot, which mostly concerns two neighboring families in suburban Connecticut, in the year 1973. The whole country seems to be crumbling, starting from the top - Nixon is on TV daily, trying to explain Watergate, and the spirit of sexual revolution is reaching this bleak town. Ben Hood (Kline), the father of one of the families, is trying to be a good parent to his kids, the grim Wendy (Ricci) and self-absorbed Paul (Magiure). His wife Elena (Allen), is full of suspicion and repressed emotions almost to the breaking point. Their neighbors, the Carvers, are equally insulated in their private world and disconnected from each other and their children. These people, fundamentally nice and decent, are trying desperately to fix their lives and establish some sort of human connection with each other, unaware that their efforts are futile, and will bring more damage. And it's this isolation that seems to be the main theme of the story. Both conversations and sex fail to establish the connections between people, and instead separate them.
The screenplay is based on a novel, and this creates both advantages and liabilities. While all characters are complex, the movie sometimes shortchanges some of them, mainly because two hours is not enough time to carefully explore all the characters' lives. But when it allows itself to focus on someone or something, The Ice Storm does a great job. All period details are right on, and some of them are hilariously so (it's hard to imagine using a waterbed and a rubber Nixon mask more effectively). Another plus is that the characters are deep and sharply detailed. All the actors, without exception, do great jobs. And two of them are incredible. Joan Allen seems to specialize in playing suffering wives (Nixon, The Crucible, Face/Off), but her performance feels original each time. Another great performance comes from Christina Ricci, best known for her performances as Wednesday Addams in Addams Family and its sequel. Wendy Hood is desperately trying to become a full-fledged adult, complete with the sexual frankness and a cynical world view. But at the same time she is afraid to part with her childhood and continues to cling to it, just the way she clings to her father in the movie's only scene of true human contact.
The second half of the movie takes place during a titular storm, which descends on the town, transforming it into the place of ethereal and deadly beauty. The bleak world freezes both in space and time, like the passenger train in the opening shot of the movie. Only the force of tragedy can unfreeze the motion and bring the catharsis. And because The Ice Storm is tragedy, don't expect the ending to bring either happiness or redemption.