1997 Movie Review: THE ICE STORM, 1997


Movie Reviews

Directed by Ang Lee
Starring: Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Janey Carver, Henry Czerny, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Adam Hann-Byrd
Review by Russell Hill


Set just before the Watergate Scandal was exposed to the world, a group of neighbours live the 1970’s lifestyle in the most hedonistic way possible.


Responsible for bringing together a stellar cast of true Hollywood greats, some even not that recognised at the time of the movies release, THE ICE STORM has all the hallmarks of a well-made independent movie; great script, good character development and amazing direction. But what’s this? It’s actually a Hollywood release?

Based on the 1994 novel of the same name by Rick Moody, the main bulk of the movie revolves around an actual ice storm that hit Connecticut in 1973 that turned the nutmeg state into an overnight icy Armageddon. The main family of the movie are the Hoods, with husband Ben (Kline) and wife Elena (Joan Allen) along with their kids Wendy (Ricci) and Paul (Tobey Maguire) and they seem as normal as any other. But not all is what it seems. Ben and Wendy aren’t exactly getting along, with Ben having an affair with the neighbour’s wife Janey (Weaver). Elena isn’t the happiest sandwich in the picnic hamper of the world either and always suspects of her husbands infidelity. What of her children? 14-year old Wendy is growing up fast, and starts to find other things to do with the neighbours’ kids, such as Janey’s son Mikey (Elijah Wood), than play monopoly. Even Mikey’s brother Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd) is fond of Wendy, but too shy to do anything about it. I’m sure we can all relate to Sandy when we were his age. Paul lives away from home, but remains on good terms with his family. Even he has his own problems in his love life. Unsuccessfully vying for the affections of his school mate Libbets (Katie Holmes), Paul too isn’t getting the best ride life can offer.

These people are not exactly poor, and shower themselves with all things expensive that was available in the 1970’s. But, despite this wealth, they’re still not happy. Their depression of being in this situation they have found themselves in is masked over by alcohol and an obscene amount of extra-marital sex. The phrase that children follow in their parents footsteps can sure be applied apply to Wendy and Mikey. Wendy, confused by the unfolding events of Watergate and her home life, finds solace in the arms of a very nervous-looking Mikey. What a shit storm of a world these families are in. By the time the ice storm has hit town, the accumulation of the actions that all involved partake in result in quite a dramatic and upsetting scene that is bound to distress even the more placid of viewers.

Applauds to all cast here must be made. Kline, as in all roles I have seen him in, is quite the professional here. He is known as a joker on set, but you couldn’t tell it from his performance here. Allen too shines here once more. Over the past decade or so, she has appeared in some sublime movies with PLEASANTVILLE being one of her best. Allen’s solemn looks throughout really do portray the depressed housewife well. It seems at times that just one look from Allen could be painted onto canvas and be the backdrop for a Dali painting, but instead her figure is limited to celluloid but it sure is great to see her in a role she was born for. Weaver too excels here. It is strange to see her playing this adulterous character, with not one alien in sight, and shines in every scene she appears in. Her inability to cope with her current predicament of cheating on her husband with her children growing up quicker than she would like to have had them do is a credit to Weaver’s talents and, as with Allen and Kline, acts in a role it seems as though she was born to play.

It may be shocking to say, but I believe the more-younger actors outshine the senior members of the cast. Before the movies release, Ricci was seen as a child actor who could not cope with more mature roles. Her role of Wendy is delivered with maturity that seems a long way from the days of Wednesday Adams. Wendy is not your innocent character and, despite Ricci being only 17 years old at the time of this movies release, deals with more grown-up aspects life very respectfully. Despite appearing for only a brief amount of screen time, Maguire too is given the opportunity to excel and succeeds beyond all expectations. Before THE ICE STORM, he was restricted to appearing in lacklustre made-for-television movies, but soon after the release of this 1997 classic he was appearing in films such as THE CIDER HOUSE RULES, PLEASANTVILLE and more recently as your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman. His on-screen persona as the unlucky-loser-in-love started with his part here as Paul. It always seems odd to see Maguire playing anything else but this type of character and long it may continue. Just like Maguire, I have to commend Adam Hann-Byrd for his role as Sandy. His nervous character that is madly in love with Wendy is played to perfection. Since his role as Sandy, he hasn’t been given the roles like the other’s he acted alongside. A shame really. Over the past decade or so, there have been a number of quite excellent independently made movies that have made it onto the mainstream market and reaped rewards. It was due to THE ICE STORM that several doors were opened for Ricci and Maguire, and to this day they have gone onto bigger and better roles. Even the more senior members of the cast have continued this success. If it wasn’t for THE ICE STORM, then who knows who would have played Peter Parker and Frodo to perfection. A highly recommended movie for those aged thirteen and up.



the ice storm

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