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THE ICE STORM

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Henry Czerny, Adam Hann-Byrd, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Jamey Sheridan, Elijah Wood, Sigourney Weaver
Director: Ang Lee
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: March 18, 2008

“Sometimes the shepherd needs the comfort of the sheep.”

“I'm going to try hard not to understand the implications of that.”

Film ***1/2

The Ice Storm is a movie with a significant title. It symbolizes not only the incredibly cold climate of the film’s setting, but more than that it symbolizes the coldness that plagues a very dysfunctional family during a thanksgiving weekend in 1973. The themes explored in this film are pretty close the ones dealt in American Beauty, but Ang Lee’s film is not a satire of a troubled family, it is a pure portrait of one. The result is a rather honest and heart wrenching film.

The film is set in the town of New Canaan, Connecticut, and centers on two neighboring families, The Hoods and The Carvers. They appear to be more than ordinary neighbors, as the father of the Hood family, Ben (Kevin Kline) is having an affair with Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver). Ben’s wife, Elena (Joan Allen), is suspicious and a lonely spouse who finds herself being hit on by none other than a minister.

But it doesn’t stop there, as Ben’s daughter, Wendy (Christina Ricci), is attempting to explore her sexuality while only 14 years of age. She finds herself flirting with Janey’s son Mikey (Elijah Wood). In one surprising moment, Janey catches her son and Wendy playing a little game of “I’ll show you mine If you show me yours.”

One of the many elements Lee tackles is the fully alive sexual revolution of the early 70s. This is very much illustrated in a scene where a group of adults at a party participate in a “key game”. The game consists of the wife fishing a set of car keys from a bowl, and she then goes home with the man that the keys belong to. Drugs and alcohol play a big part in providing a way of escaping for the adults in the film, as well as the kids, who are also seen sipping wine and taking numerous substances.

The Ice Storm should be applauded for its uncompromising look at a family who is completely shut off from one another, and don’t even think to realize it. The overall sadness of the movie is illustrated brilliantly by a tragic event that occurs in the film’s closing moments, in which all the pain that is harbored is released in a most convincing way.

The acting is one to be very admired. Kevin Kline, one of our greatest actors working today, delivers one of his best performances to date as the emotionally torn Ben, and young Christina Ricci was able to broaden her talent by playing a very challenging role for someone her age, and it lead to even more mature turns in such movies as The Opposite of Sex and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

If the film doesn’t merit a full four star rating, it’s simply because the dysfunctional family theme was played out much, much better in such films as Ordinary People and American Beauty. Plus, this film has to be viewed in a certain mood. You will really have to be prepared to take in all the dark emotions that this film displays. Nonetheless, The Ice Storm is a striking piece of work from one of our more versatile filmmakers around, Ang Lee, whose Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is mega-masterpiece of a movie. It’s fascinating to see that he can succeed in making different kinds of movies. Ang Lee, for my money, is Asia’s answer to Martin Scorsese.

Video ****

Criterion triumphs once more with a tremendous looking presentation. The original disc from Fox was already a terrific looking disc, so for Criterion to downgrade to quality in any way would be a sign of the apocalypse. The observant look of the film provided by cinematographer Frederick Elmes resonates beautifully from beginning to end. A wonderful presentation with an ever so strong level of detail, as only Criterion can provide.

Audio ***

Only a 2.0 mix is supplied here, which had me scratching my head in confusion since the original Fox disc contained a 5.0 Dolby Digital mix. Nonetheless, the sound quality is every bit as effective, even for a film that is solely dialogue driven. Dialogue is superbly well-rendered throughout, and the occasional pop songs from the time period depicted are heard in top sounding form.

Features ****

Here’s the area where Criterion’s upgrade has certainly made a difference from the original DVD release. This 2-Disc release is one of the studio finest releases in some time, other than The Last Emperor, in terms of features. On Disc One, there’s a commentary with Ang Lee and producer/screenwriter James Schamus, as well as a Theatrical Trailer.

Disc Two features a brand new 35 minute documentary titled “Weathering the Storm”, which features interviews with Joan Allen, Kevin Kline, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Sigourney Weaver and Elijah Wood. Also included is a new interview with novelist Rick Moody, Deleted Scenes, Footage from an event honoring Lee and Schamus at New York's Museum of the Moving Image, as well as some visual essays on the look of the film, featuring interviews with the cinematographer, production designer, and costume designer. And a Criterion release wouldn’t be complete without a top notch DVD booklet, which here includes a new essay by film critic Bill Krohn.

Summary:

The Ice Storm remains, for me, one of Ang Lee’s finest cinematic accomplishments to date. It also remains one of the most authentic portraits of a troubled family to ever reach the screen and this fantastic release from Criterion is a perfect reason to experience it, for either a first time or repeat viewing.

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