It's frequently the small details that make the difference between
a good picture and an outstanding one. Director Ang Lee (SENSE AND
SENSIBILITY, EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN, and THE WEDDING BANQUET) is a master
at the minutia of story telling.
In THE ICE STORM, set in an unhappy period of the early 1970s when
the sexual revolution and the Watergate scandal were both in full
swing, Lee uses close-ups of a metaphor-laden metal ice tray to tell
the story. The adults in the film, and to lesser extent the teenagers,
are as cold to each other as ice, and each will be broken in many ways
before their melancholy story ends.
"Ben, you're boring me," complains Sigourney Weaver as a harsh
looking Janey Carver to a tired and befuddled Kevin Kline as her lover
and neighbor Ben Hood. "I have a husband. I don't have a need for
another one." You see, he has committed the cardinal sin of talking
seriously to her after their regularly scheduled tryst. She is there
for sex and is put off by the effrontery of his speaking to her. James
Schamus's script based on the novel by Rick Moody is dead-on in this
scene as in all the others.
Carol Oditz's costumes and Michael Bigger's make-up gives the
early 70s an accurate but exceedingly ugly look. Never have long
lapels and gaudy leisure suits looked worse. Only Joan Allen, who
steals the show as Ben's repressed wife Elena, manages to look good in
her hairspray-hardened coiffure. A fragile statuette who looks ever in
danger of cracking, she plays a wife who tries to ignore her husband's
infidelities even as she yearns for some of her own. Like all of the
other characters, she is massively unhappy with her life. Kleptomania
turns out to be her method for sexual arousal.
Mark Friedberg's sets for the film are set in a depressingly gray
and leafless New Canaan, Conn. The days are short and cold as a bleak
winter approaches. Again, metaphors abound.
Along with the adults' preoccupation with sex, the kids are
beginning to experiment. And I do mean experiment. Christina Ricci,
as Ben's 14-year-old daughter Wendy, offers Janey's son Mikey, played
wild-eyed by Elijah Wood, a sexual encounter, but with a condition.
She must be permitted to wear her large Nixon mask during it. When her
father finds them in Janey's basement, he is almost rendered
speechless. Afterall, he just left Janey's bed upstairs.
In another scene, Wendy takes Mikey's younger brother Sandy,
played with devilish innocence by Adam Hann-Byrd, into the bathroom for
the classic game of you-show-me-yours-and-I'll-show-you-mine. When
Janey finds them, she hypocritically delivers an overly long and obtuse
lecture to Wendy that includes the admonition, "A person's body is his
temple." (Yes, "his" since the 1970s predate the political correctness
All of the performances are tour de force, but incredibly
depressing. The show offers only a few possibly redemptive scenes.
The film's long ending sequence makes the picture. As its title
suggests, it includes an ice storm. During the storm the adults attend
a "California key party." Like a grown-up version of spin-the-bottle,
each woman gets to go home with the man whose car keys she fishes out
of a big bowl. Never has sex seemed more dismal that in this sad game
of spouse-swapping. Even when the men get the worse looking ones at
the party, they awkwardly seem to jump for joy. But THE ICE STORM is
never a comedy, not even a black comedy. It is a deadly serious and
morose morality tale and the slowest and the darkest movie yet from Ang
Lee. It is a devastating film that will almost certainly leave you
THE ICE STORM runs 1:52. It is rated R for drugs, sex and mature
themes. The film would be fine for older and mature teenagers. I
strongly recommend the picture to you and give it *** 1/2.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes