Title: The Ice Storm
Director: Ang Lee
Screenwriter: James Schamus
based on the novel by Rick Moody
Music: Mychael Danna
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
Editor: Tim Squyres
John Benjamin Hickey
Thanksgiving weekend in 1973, quotidian existence is so gelid in the suburban New Canaan, Connecticut, with an ice storm looming over, middle-class complacency is soon to be disrupted and a train wreck of outrageous activities transpires in Ang Lee’s first USA production THE ICE STORM, based on Rick Moody’s novel.
The ensemble mainly includes two neighboring families, The Hoods and The Carveys, each couple has two adolescent children. Ben Hood (Kline), a corporation man whose abstraction is manifest during a company meeting, is married to Elena (Allen), their elder son Paul (Maguire) is infatuated with his classmate Libbets (Holmes in her debut role), younger daughter Wendy (Ricci), practices sexual experiments with both Carvey boys, the eccentric, wonky Mikey (Wood) and his explosive-obsessed younger brother Sandy (Hann-Byrd), meanwhile the brothers’ mother Janey (Weaver) conducts an affair with Ben, and her husband Jim (Sheridan) is often absent due to work.
Carving out the narrative’s nuts and bolts with his characteristic sensibility and simmering progression, Ang Lee tenderly leaves elbow room for his players to breathe, assimilate and react, in the face of each character’s emotional trajectory, in a way that surpasses any affectations in the name of emphasizing the dramatic quotient, Lee’s methodology is always to let emotion eke out slowly, allow time for it to ferment, to manifest, to assault, and even for the contentious sex play between two underage kids, he has the gumption to protract their prepubescent curiosity, puzzlement and embarrassment, so that its impact really registers.
The climax pivots around the storming-ravaging night, when each member of the dramatis persona experiences something that will leave an ineffaceable mark in their heart, to say nothing of a fatal tragedy that totally banjaxes one family, but might perversely unite another one in the morning after.
Any actor is lucky to be nurtured in Lee’s modus operandi and more often that not, it elicits their best form, Kevin Kline, as the sole name billed before the title, takes on the guilty husband part with a pinch of both self-assurance and penitence, but it is Joan Allen as the stifled housewife who pluckily holds our heart chord in her disillusioned desperation, especially in the scenes around the cardinal spouse-swapping “key party”, her ornery sink into that level speaks volumes for how unbearable the status quo is, and Allen, as always as affectively effective, is a revelation here.
Also stimulating is Sigourney Weaver’s Janey, a no-nonsense sexual predator who is unapologetic for her depravity and prickly has no patience for other lesser mortal’s grouse or unenlightened mumbo jumbo, Weaver is such a top-shelf performer, her towering presence often telegraphs an ineffable mystique that one can certainly empathizes why Janey feels aggrieved mired the suburbia inertia, sex becomes her only outlet, but that doesn’t eventually solve her problem, her reaction to the imminent tragedy comes lastly, lying on her fluid water bed, if only everything were merely a bad dream.
THE ICE STORM also boosts and heralds a sterling group of young actors, Maguire and Wood will soon ascend to global fame in massive popular blockbusters, but for my money, plaudits should be given to Ricci’s poncho-donning, precocious Wendy, shows off her piercing nonchalance as the default of teenage rebellion and treads down the hazardous lane of sexual awakening exploration hand in hand with an equally impressive Hann-Byrd, whose Sandy, in a long turn, might be more dangerous and problematic than her kooky brother.
Underscored by Mychael Danna’s nostalgic and ethnic strains and a chill-to-the-bone setting of wintry exterior and drab interior, THE ICE STORM is a rapier-like dissection of the benumbing existence of a particular social stratum and its attendant, deleterious existential crisis, and Ang Lee is lucid, confident and perspicuous as ever.
referential entries: And Lee’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995, 8.8/10), EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994, 8.6/10); Todd Field’s LITTLE CHILDREN (2006, 7.7/10).