Ang Lee is fast making a huge name for himself. With the brilliant Eat, Drink, Man, Woman and the multi-award-winning Sense&Sensibility under his belt, this talented director has now turned his perceptive eye towards angst in USA. Yes, this is a period social drama - intelligent, worthy, wordy, and choc full of dodgy flares, big hair, Frank Zappa and flowery shirts. But it's also one of the finest of its genre you will ever see. The problems of a typical suburban family stuck in their affluent '70s Nowheresville - it's based on Rick Moody's 1994 novel - represents a cinematically stunning evocation of the American nation in a time of spiritual unease. Imagine the Brady Bunch, but really pissed off.
The family and the individuals within it form the core of The Ice Storm. It's a character-driven yarn - nothing more, nothing less. No-one really does a lot, (apart from drink, have sex, talk and fret about things), and nothing much seems to happen. But the pacing and emotional content of the movie are impeccable. It remains utterly unromantic throughout, and it's laced with bittersweet, faintly ironic humour of the "Hey, family, there seem to be one or two communication problems between us" variety.
Furthermore, certain characters (Weaver in scary, adulterous vixen mode) are unforgiveably self-serving and cynical (that is, they're three-dimensional, and therefore human). And Kline's powerful performance - he has an affair with Weaver's Queen Bitch Of The Universe, who's the archetype author Erica Jong was thinking of when she coined her famous phrase, "the zipless fuck" - has an assuredness that's breathtaking.
The end result is a movie that brilliantly captures the zeitgeist of a country right on the cusp of radical upheaval - and a family on the brink of meltdown. Better still, Lee doesn't bludgeon this message home in chunkily staged sound-bites and melodramatic histrionics, but with a gentle, persuasive subtlety, focusing on the development of the characters and their emotionally complex personae.
The proverbial ice storm, which arrives near the film's dénouement, is a frozen meteorological outpouring of violent proportions. Its narrative purpose is to bring simmering matters to a head for both the family and (metaphorically, at least) America as a whole.
And it's here - the genius of what has passed notwithstanding - that The Ice Storm throws up a deliberately downbeat sequence so mesmerising and shatteringly intense (you'll know when) that it sails precariously close to the sharp edge of perfection, so close it's in real danger of cutting itself.
This film is a slice of celluloid social drama to die for. It boasts some stunning performances from an ensemble cast, ridiculously accurate late-'70s-era sets, consistently haunting cinematography and a poignant, literate, perceptive and masterfully crafted script. Expect Oscars by the bucketload, and its immediate elevation to classic status.
The tribulations of a '70s family, facing change both at home and in American society. It won't be to everyone's taste, but this is intelligent, observant, exceptional film-making. A glittering snowflake among the Hollywood slush.
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