The Ice Storm
American Beauty may have won a Best Picture Oscar for portraying the dark side of suburbia, but for a bleaker, more realistic look at the lives and emotions of the commuter set, try Ang Lee's The Ice Storm. Set in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1973 and based on a novel by Rick Moody, Lee's wrenching, expertly acted drama focuses on two families whose complex relationships come to a head over the long Thanksgiving weekend, brought into focus by the beautiful, treacherous storm of the title. On one hand are the Hoods frustrated housewife Elena (Joan Allen), her philandering husband Ben (Kevin Kline), cynical daughter Wendy (Christina Ricci), and son Paul (Tobey Maguire). Their friends and neighbors are the Carvers sophisticated, distant Janey (Sigourney Weaver), often-absent Jim (Jamey Sheridan), and their sons Mikey (Elijah Wood) and Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd). Not only are Ben and Janey having an affair (which Elena becomes aware of), but Mikey and Wendy are fooling around, and Sandy worships his big brother's girl (mostly) from afar. All of the actors do an excellent job bringing their characters to life and making their relationships and conflicts believable, whether it's Elena finally snapping and deciding to participate in a partner-swapping sex party or Mikey searching for sensation by bouncing up and down on an ice-coated diving board. And as outsider Paul, the boarding school student whose viewpoint and observations about family frame the film, Maguire provides an observer's entry point for the audience. Lee couldn't have chosen a setting and characters more different from those of his first mainstream Hollywood movie, Sense and Sensibility for this 1997 follow-up, and his range is impressive. The Ice Storm successfully conveys the pressures and confusion that people like the Hoods and the Carvers felt in the early '70s when the ideals and norms of the '60s counterculture finally came knocking on their sheltered suburban doors. The film sparkles like an icicle on Fox's DVD, with a crystal clear anamorphic transfer (1.85:1). The sound is solid as well, with Dolby Digital 5.0 and Dolby 2.0 Surround tracks, as well as English and Spanish subtitles. Feature selection is slim: scene selection, the theatrical trailer, previews for other Fox dramas on DVD, and a six-and-a-half-minute making-of featurette. In the absence of a commentary track, the behind-the-scenes short is actually quite interesting and worth watching, offering quick interviews with Weaver, Allen, Lee, Moody, Kline, and Ricci, among others. Keep-case.