The Ice Storm - Rated (Ironically) - HOT! HOT! HOT!

I loved this film. It is a conundrum. Its images are strangely familiar, and yet, at the same time, quite foreign. It examines faces and places with total intimacy, and yet it maintains a distance that enables objective analysis. It shows the past in lovingly-created detail - such detail that the film almost feels "curated" - and yet it has an immediacy that makes you feel things are unfolding before you as they happen. It is obviously observed by an outsider (Ang Lee, the director, is from Taiwan originally, but he has lived in the States for over 20 years) and yet the film seems to have been made by someone who was right there, in the fabulously-named New Canaan, at the time.

The film is utterly beautiful, too. The Director of Photography is Frederick Elmes, who shot Blue Velvet and Eraserhead. The ice storm which builds as the action builds is a superb metaphor for the chilling distance between many of the characters. In fact, this aspect of the film is so beautiful and so mysterious that I don't want to write about it - it might break the spell. Ang Lee marshals his characters and events so skilfully that when the climax comes - and it is shattering - you are utterly defenceless. But you don't feel manipulated at all. All of the pieces of the puzzle have been moved around and gradually fall into place so that the full picture is revealed - any yet, like all jigsaw puzzles, the picture has been right there in front of you all along. In this respect, I found the film to be very like some of the best Asian cinema I have seen. But (of course) this is very much a film about America and Americans.

And the cast! There's no hint of overplaying here. The adults are all very good, especially Kevin Kline. He's so versatile, and so subtle with his emotions. Joan Allen is as excellent as ever. Another role of emotional restraint for her - this is becoming her trademark. She also deserves a mention for actually looking quite good in seventies gear! Sigourney Weaver has a showy role, and she's fine, though she doesn't show us any truth until her last moments (when she decodes the cipher in one killer closeup). Jamey Sheridan, who plays her husband, Jim Carver, is wonderful, and devastatingly raw in his final scene.

But it's the kids who deserve the highest praise among the actors. Elijah Wood is maturing nicely and plays Mikey Carver with a nice detachment. Tobey Maguire plays Paul Hood with good balance and he connects with the audience well. Christina Ricci is incredibly brave and insightful as the troubled Wendy Hood. But for me it is the performance of young Adam Hann-Byrd which tops them all. He plays an unusual role with exquisite sensitivity. I'll not forget his face. But all these kids are extraordinary talents.

I imagine that Ang Lee must have had quite a lot to do to with getting such emotional depth from these kids, and I imagine they were all helped and inspired by the adult ensemble cast too. But I detect Ang Lee's strong and steady hand here too. He's made his masterpiece in this film, and so I'm nominating him for Best Director in the Oscars. He should win. So should this film. It is as hard and bright and multi-faceted as a diamond.