There are few filmmakers with as varied an oeuvre as Taiwanese writer/director Ang Lee. Fewer still that have managed to consistently produce films of a highly eclectic nature with stellar production quality over the several decades that Lee has been working. I became a fan of his work after watching “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” when I was eight years old in 2000 and, as I grew up, I began to appreciate the more ‘adult’ works from his past career. “The Ice Storm” is one such piece of outstanding direction from Lee that it quickly became one of my favorites from his filmography as well as one of my most adored films in recent history.
Set in the disillusioned wealthy suburbia of North-Eastern America in the mid 1970’s, The Ice Storm follows the lives of three individuals who all go through the process of transforming into maturer, more adult human beings. We follow a young Tobey Maguire struggling to tell the first girl of his dreams how he feels. We see an even younger Christina Ricci going through puberty and discovering her body for the first time; and we also observe a useless father played by Kevin Kline, growing more distant from his children whilst committing an affair behind his wife’s (Joan Allen) back. From a certain angle The Ice Storm could nearly be easily perceived as the plot to the pilot episode of a family sitcom and in a certain sense the film does actually play out as one….nearly. The beauty that Lee injects into the film isn’t a focus on family values, but rather instead individual (or existential) ones. What does it mean to be a teenager? Or a child? Or a middle-aged man? Lee also cleverly, but more importantly subtlety, introduces the backdrop of the Watergate scandal as a parallel motif that runs along with the characters throughout the narrative. Now ask yourself, what does it mean to be a teenager, child or middle-aged man in a politically shell-shocked and unidentifiable America?
I won’t go into too much detail about the cinematography of the film as it truly has to been seen to be appreciated. Needless to say Frederick Elmes’ lighting is gorgeous, painting a stark visual canvas of an East-coast American winter. However coming from the man who worked on Blue Velvet (1986) you shouldn’t be too surprised by the ingenuity of such a talent! There are many elements I could go into when it comes to writing about The Ice Storm, so many factors of the films production that were done so well that listing them all would be entirely pointless. The performances are stellar all round with Sigourney Weaver and Joan Allen surprisingly exceeding already high expectations. Henry Czerny (of Mission Impossible fame) along with Katie Holmes and Allison Janney (one of my favorite actresses) become nice additions to the already talented ensemble. The world of the 70’s is captured in a vein rarely ever portrayed within the mainstream cinematic output before as well. The most notorious sequence in the film being a key-chain party where many of the adult characters attend at the disgust of not only Kevin Kline’s character but also the audiences. Disgusting but accurate for the time…apparently.
Music, lighting, sound design, editing production values and performance are all simply wonderful throughout, a habit that Lee usually carries with him onto whatever project he directs. Although many were put off by what he was trying to accomplish with Hulk (2003), The Ice Storm is a much more grounded and down to Earth narrative. Watch if you want to see what a Brian Eno directed film from the 70’s could have looked like, or just watch if you want to treat yourself to some wonderful performances in what ends up becoming a very memorable and personable drama.