Tobey Maguire

The Best of Enemies (2019, Robin Bissell)

Chris Rock has a joke about waiting to see if the evening news—it’s an old joke—report on a crime is going to have a Black perpetrator or a White one, just so he (Rock, a Black man) can figure out if his white coworkers are going to ask him if he knew the perp (if he’s Black).

In other words, I had to check and see if Best of Enemies writer, director, and producer Robin Bissell was a White person. He is. He’s also fifty, which… isn’t a demographic to be making The Best of Enemies in 2019. Or ever, really. There was never a good time for a fifty year-old White guy to make a movie about a North Carolina Klan leader in the early seventies realizing Black people are people because they can be nice to him. Best of Enemies is basically the reverse of those White “liberals” who tell Black people to stop complaining or they’ll have to vote GOP next time when, in reality, you know they all voted for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein anyway. It’s about lead Sam Rockwell—the aforementioned Klan leader—realizing not just Black people are people but also how the system is rigged against poor Whites and Blacks alike and that rigging seems to be the point.

Less on the second part, however, because it might be interesting to see that development in Rockwell’s life and the film avoids any interesting developments.

I’m going at Enemies a little harder than usual for a few reasons. First, Taraji P. Henson is top-billed. She’s the Black woman community organizer who works with Rockwell and contributes to his ability to see the humanity in… you know, humans. Rah for him, sure, but a movie? Not sure it’s worth a movie. Especially since the movie sets itself up to be this great anti-buddy buddy pic between Henson and Rockwell and it’s not. Henson, it’ll turn out somewhere in the very lengthy two hour plus runtime, is red herring. She’s got nothing to do in the movie. Not even supporting player scraps after the movie shoves Rockwell into the lead. So The Best of Enemies, which ostensibly is about two “born enemies”—a Klan leader and, you know, a Black person—becoming something together, is really just a White Savior movie for Rockwell. And he’s not even the most interesting White Savior in the picture.

John Gallagher Jr.’s the most interesting White Savior. He’s just in a bit part, which is too bad because he’s a lot more useful a character than some of the bigger stunt casts in bit parts—fifth-billed Wes Bentley, for example; around to be the creepy, greasy Klan guy who you think is going to crack and kill someone.

And then there’s Nick Searcy, who’s—as usual—quite good. This time he’s quite good as a piece of shit upper class racist who gets Rockwell’s poor White Klan boys to do his dirty work. Is the film aware of… Nick Searcy’s optics? Like. You can leave a lot at the door. You can’t leave Nick Searcy at the door. It’s not a good enough part for it really to be worth it. Though no one’s part is really good enough.

Henson’s great. Even after Bissell’s scared to give her scenes with other Black people. Or maybe he’s not scared. Maybe he just doesn’t have the interest in her story. She and Rockwell are working on a charrette, which doesn’t make the Apple dictionary (says something, I imagine), and is “any collaborative session in which a group of designers drafts a solution to a design problem.” The problem in Enemies is school integration. Rockwell and Henson end up co-chairs, forced into working together by facilitator Babou Ceesay. Cessay’s in town doing the charrette because the judge doesn’t want to have to rule on school integration and wants to pass the buck.

It’s not a metaphor for the film’s proclivity for passing the buck, but only because Bissell wouldn’t know how to do a metaphor.

Technically, the film’s fine. It’s clearly on too low of a budget to do the period well. Almost no extras in the exteriors of strangely empty streets and so on. Bissell’s not bad at composition. He’s perfectly pedestrian, which does the film no help in getting over the budget constraints. Presumably most of the money went to Rockwell and Henson, who both do their best, but… there’s only so far they can go with the script and what the script gives them. Or, in both their cases, what the script doesn’t give them. Henson just doesn’t get material. Rockwell gets material but no character development arc. The whole point of the movie is shitbag racists are people too but Bissell never wants more than a caricature from Rockwell. Maybe a 3D one, but still just a caricature. You can see Rockwell getting bored in Enemies. The part doesn’t give him anything to do. Not really. Not sincerely. Some of his best scenes in the movie ought to be the ones where he’s just hanging out with wife Anne Heche, only there’s so much expository dumping in those scenes—because Heche isn’t a big-time racist, she just loves one. So she makes him different than the Bentleys or the Searcys of the film. Her and Rockwell having a son with Downs in the South in 1971 and still, you know, loving him. Best of Enemies exploits its cast in a lot of ways—after a while, if she’s not just building up Rockwell’s humanity, Henson’s part is reduced to crying helplessly—after a certain point, Bissell can’t even pretend he’s not just objectifying anguish… but no one gets it worse than Kevin Iannucci as the son. Bissell’s a callous filmmaker.

Probably because he can’t figure out how to make the movie work. Possibly because it’s not Rockwell’s movie but Bissell can’t imagine it any other way.

It’s a waste of the cast. Maybe not Bentley but everyone else. Bentley’s fine he’s just not promising. Everyone else is at least promising. Like Bruce McGill. Or Nicholas Logan, who’s creepy as the bland blond Klan redneck (versus Bentley’s greaser one, who needs a Johnny Reb cap to be distinct).

Really good songs on the soundtrack. Seventies stuff. Because they were listening to early Bowie in South Carolina in 1971. It’s Bissell bumbling his way through softening the audience with nostalgia.

Is there a good movie in the true story? Probably. The clips over the end credits of the real people Rockwell and Henson are playing is a better movie than the previous two hours and five minutes and they’re just clips.

There’s some good acting work in the film and Jeannine Oppewall’s production design is good and whoever did the line producing did well, but… The Best of Enemies is way too shallow. Bissell knows there’s a movie in the story, he just can’t find it. Especially not in his script.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robin Bissell; screenplay by Bissell, based on the book by Osha Gray Davidson; director of photography, David Lanzenberg; edited by Harry Yoon; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Matt Berenson, Fred Bernstein, Bissell, Tobey Maguire, Matthew Plouffe, Danny Strong, and Dominique Telson; released by STX Films.

Starring Sam Rockwell (C.P. Ellis), Taraji P. Henson (Ann Atwater), Anne Heche (Mary Ellis), Nick Searcy (Garland Keith), Babou Ceesay (Bill Riddick), Wes Bentley (Floyd Kelly), Nicholas Logan (Wiley Yates), John Gallagher Jr. (Lee Tromblay), Caitlin Mehner (Maddy Mays), Kevin Iannucci (Larry Ellis), and Bruce McGill (Carvie Oldham).


Wonder Boys (2000, Curtis Hanson)

Wonder Boys has a very messy third act. The film takes place over a weekend, Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon; it’s the annual writers conference at an unnamed Pittsburgh university, which kicks off some of the film’s events, lines up some other ones, but is really just an excuse for exposition. It’s fine—it’s great exposition—but it’s somewhat redundant because lead Michael Douglas narrates the whole movie anyway. The film’s about how and why Douglas ends up playing hooky from the conference, even though it’s never clear how involved he was supposed to be. Douglas’s professionalism, which is at least seems ostensible at the beginning of the film, slowly evaporates as events start getting… weird.

Unfortunately the first thing to get weird is super-cringey. The film’s from 2000 and it doesn’t think it’s being transphobic and it actually gets somewhere very interesting with the subplot, but… it’s super-cringey. And kind of makes the three generations of Wonder Boys—Douglas, Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire—seem like dicks. It makes Downey icky when he’s supposed to be lovable.

Downey’s Douglas’s agent. They both got famous when Douglas wrote his first (and only) novel. He’s been working on his new one for seven years. It’s over two thousand pages. Maguire is one of Douglas’s students; his best student, who already has a finished novel. And is really weird. He’s not so much moody as peeking at the world from his Nietzschean hole in the ground. The film’s at its best when Douglas and Maguire are bonding. It’s at its funniest when Douglas and Downey are mugging. It’s got the most potential when Douglas is canoodling (or trying to canoodle) Frances McDormand. McDormand is the chancellor of the school. She’s married to Richard Thomas, who’s the chair of the English department and Douglas’s boss. Douglas and McDormand are in love. Douglas’s wife has left him that very morning for unrelated martial strife; McDormand just found out she’s pregnant. Maguire might be suicidal (the movie drops this one hard, like it doesn’t want to take the responsibility). Downey’s about to lose his job (but doesn’t care so it’s a throwaway subplot; also he’s—unfortunately—a glorified guest star). There’s a lot going on.

Throw in stolen movie memorabilia, a blind dog, Katie Holmes as Douglas’s student and lodger who thinks she understands her grandpa-aged crush, and a stolen car. Not to mention Douglas’s unseen wife, who hangs over the narrative but has absolutely no presence. It’s impossible to imagine Douglas married, not to mention anyone else living in his de facto flophouse. Beautifully designed de facto flophouse, but flophouse nonetheless. So the ethereal wife is a problem. And Holmes is a problem. She’s trying to make time with Douglas and he’s aware but completely disinterested. He likes women closer to his own age—McDormand’s only thirteen years younger versus Holmes’s thirty-four. Presumably the phantom wife is somewhere in middle. But Holmes, who either gets to be really insightful or really thin—she’s flirting with Rip Torn, who’s—you know—forty-some years older—never seems to realize Douglas isn’t into her that way. He’s not into her any way. It’s hard to believe they live in the same house.

The film doesn’t exactly have plot holes, it just often has soft plot details. Director Hanson and screenwriter Steve Kloves gloss over things they shouldn’t, then somehow lose track of what the film’s supposed to be doing. During the second act, it falls completely in love with the supporting cast—Maguire in particular, which is fine and dandy because Maguire’s great—but then it chucks him in the third act to bring Downey back in. Okay, Downey’s really good, really fun (not great because he doesn’t have the part), but… wasn’t Maguire supposed to be important. Then it turns out Downey’s not important. What’s important is something the film’s had the opportunity to focus on and hasn’t. Intentionally avoided it, actually, which maybe is supposed to be a metaphor for pot-addled Douglas’s indecision—the film’s also got some really dated pot politics—but it’s a miss. Douglas is phenomenal and a great protagonist, but his narration doesn’t add anything to the film. The occasional smile, the tiniest bit of context for some exposition or another, but there’s never anything important in it.

Especially not after Douglas loses his agency in the third act.

But the script’s still good. It’s a complete mess, plotting-wise, but the scenes are great. The pacing is great. And Hanson knows how he wants to shoot the conversations. There’s a lot of beautiful direction, with outstanding photography from Dante Spinotti. Cool but warm photography, intense but natural. It’s a great looking film. Dede Allen’s editing is great, especially since Hanson’s composing these wide Panavision shots and the cuts between angles ought to be jarring. They’re not. They’re perfectly timed. Sublimely timed. Solid music from Christopher Young, mostly emphasis stuff. There’s a great soundtrack for the film, including an original Bob Dylan song. Though it’s hard to imagine any of the Wonder Boys listening to Bob Dylan.

Going through the acting again. Douglas and Maguire are phenomenal. McDormand’s great. Downey’s good. Rip Torn’s fun. Holmes gets a crap part. Richard Thomas gets cast way too perfectly as a cuckold.

Wonder Boys is, problems and all, outstanding. It’s just frustratingly close to exceptional and when Hanson and Kloves so completely bungle the third act… it takes some real damage. But it’s still outstanding though. And Douglas and Maguire’s performances are exceptional… the parts just don’t end up being so.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Curtis Hanson; screenplay by Steve Kloves, based on the novel by Michael Chabon; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Dede Allen; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Hanson and Scott Rudin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Michael Douglas (Grady Tripp), Tobey Maguire (James Leer), Frances McDormand (Sara Gaskell), Robert Downey Jr. (Terry Crabtree), Katie Holmes (Hannah Green), Rip Torn (Q), Richard Knox (Vernon Hardapple), Jane Adams (Oola), Alan Tudyk (Traxler), and Richard Thomas (Walter Gaskell).


Rock of Ages (2012, Adam Shankman)

Rock of Ages is middling. With a better script and better lead actors, it would likely be much improved. Female lead Julianne Hough gives an okay performance, but her singing leaves a lot to be desired. Male lead Diego Boneta can sing, he just can’t act. Their romance, the ostensible central story of Ages, is annoying.

The film’s salient feature is Tom Cruise. Playing a has-been rock star who finds a little redemption, Cruise is fantastic. He finds the humor of the persona, but also the humanity behind it. Once he shows up, Ages becomes about waiting for him to show up again.

The film also tracks the story of club owner Alec Baldwin and his Friday, Russell Brand. The script writes them a bunch of bad jokes, but they still succeed. They’re clearly having a lot of fun.

Also having fun is Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s wife, out to shut Baldwin down. She does a great job; even though her character’s intentionally unlikable (Ages probably won’t play well in Oklahoma, for instance), she’s a delight.

As Cruise’s agent, Paul Giamatti is good, but he’s not trying very hard. He lets his fake ponytail do the heavy lifting. Malin Akerman manages to be lifeless, but not bad. The only other bad performance is Mary J. Blige; her singing’s great though.

Director Shankman does all right. Emma E. Hickox’s editing is lousy, which doesn’t help things.

Ages is often a lot of fun. The great Cruise performance helps.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Adam Shankman; screenplay by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo and Allan Loeb, based on the musical book by D’Arienzo; director of photography, Bojan Bazelli; edited by Emma E. Hickox; music by Adam Anders and Peer Åström; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Jennifer Gibgot, Garrett Grant, Carl Levin, Tobey Maguire, Scott Prisand, Shankman and Matt Weaver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Julianne Hough (Sherrie Christian), Diego Boneta (Drew Boley), Russell Brand (Lonny), Alec Baldwin (Dennis Dupree), Paul Giamatti (Paul Gill), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Patricia Whitmore), Bryan Cranston (Mike Whitmore), Malin Akerman (Constance Sack), Mary J. Blige (Justice Charlier) and Tom Cruise (Stacee Jaxx).


Spider-Man 3 (2007, Sam Raimi)

After having two decent Danny Elfman scores similar to his two Batman scores, Raimi brought in composer Christopher Young, who does a terrible job, sure, but also mimics the (non-Elfman) score to Batman Forever. The music in this film makes the ears bleed.

In theory, following the great financial and critical success of Spider-Man 2, Raimi should have been able to do whatever he wanted with this entry. And maybe he did. But if he did, his truest intent for a Spider-Man movie was to make an unbearable one.

It’s real bad. The only thing the film has going for it is James Franco. It ought to have Thomas Haden Church in the plus column too, but the handling of his character is exceptionally bad. Haden Church barely gets any screen time and the film ends without resolving whether his innocent, sickly daughter is going to die or not.

Topher Grace’s villain, the evil Spider-Man, is exceptionally lame. Have I already used exceptionally in this response? I’ll use it again. Just awful, awful writing. Grace is almost mediocre, but can’t essay the character properly; he instills too much sitcom charm.

Tobey Maguire apparently didn’t even bother getting in shape for this one. Raimi gives him an evil mop haircut at one point, for his evil scenes, so the viewer knows he’s bad.

J.K. Simmons is good and Elizabeth Banks finally gets some decent lines.

So it’s not a completely awful film, just extremely close to one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; screenplay by Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent, from the screen story by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi and based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Bob Murawski; music by Christopher Young and Danny Elfman; production designers, Neil Spisak and J. Michael Riva; produced by Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad and Grant Curtis; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Thomas Haden Church (Flint Marko/Sandman), Topher Grace (Eddie Brock), Bryce Dallas Howard (Gwen Stacy), James Cromwell (Captain Stacy), Rosemary Harris (Aunt May), J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson), Theresa Russell (Emma Marko), Dylan Baker (Dr. Curt Connors), Bill Nunn (Robbie Robertson), Elizabeth Banks (Miss Brant), Ted Raimi (Hoffman), Perla Haney-Jardine (Penny Marko), Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin/Norman Osborn), Cliff Robertson (Ben Parker) and Bruce Campbell (Maître d’).


Spider-Man 2 (2004, Sam Raimi), the extended version

Ah, so the only other film Raimi directed Panavision was the unwatchable For Love of the Game. His Panavision composition here–with Bill Pope shooting it–is exquisite. Raimi and Pope correct, from the first scene in the film, the problem Raimi had with the original–Spider-Man 2 takes place in New York City. When a bunch of New Yorkers help Spider-Man here–regardless of if they filmed the sequence in Chicago–it’s an honest scene, not some kind of jingoistic garbage.

For the majority of the film–there are some transitional missteps when it has to be a regular action movie again, third act (but the end recovers beautifully)–it’s about a bunch of miserable people. Tobey Maguire’s miserable because being Spider-Man’s ruining his life, Kirsten Dunst is miserable because she doesn’t have Maguire, James Franco’s miserable because his dad’s been murdered, Rosemary Harris’s miserable because she’s a widow. For about seventy minutes, it’s a bunch of unhappy people being unhappy. It’s luscious.

The acting helps. Harris was barely in the first film, but here she develops into a character. Alfred Molina’s a good villain (Raimi doesn’t overuse the villain here, like he did before). Franco’s really good. Maguire’s great, sort of shockingly great. Dunst is fine. She’s effective without being good. J.K. Simmons and Donna Murphy are also fantastic.

Two problems besides the transitional stumble–there’s an awful “talking to himself” scene with Molina and then a dream sequence–otherwise, it’s perfect (except Elfman’s music).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; written by Alvin Sargent, based on a screen story by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Michael Chabon and the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Bob Murawski; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by Laura Ziskin and Avi Arad; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Alfred Molina (Dr. Otto Octavius), Rosemary Harris (May Parker), J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson), Donna Murphy (Rosalie Octavius), Daniel Gillies (John Jameson), Dylan Baker (Dr. Curt Connors), Bill Nunn (Robbie Robertson), Vanessa Ferlito (Louise), Aasif Mandvi (Mr. Aziz), Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin/Norman Osborn), Cliff Robertson (Ben Parker), Ted Raimi (Hoffman), Elizabeth Banks (Miss Brant), Gregg Edelman (Dr. Davis), Elya Baskin (Mr. Ditkovich), Mageina Tovah (Ursula) and Bruce Campbell (Snooty Usher).


Spider-Man (2002, Sam Raimi)

I wonder what kind of movie Spider-Man would have been if the filmmakers hadn’t been so concerned with a “proper” film post-9/11. I know they added the New Yorkers attacking the Goblin to defend Spider-man and I’m wondering if that American flag ending was another addition… this kind of inane jingoistic nonsense ruins movies, but it can’t ruin Spider-Man. You can’t ruin a picture something else has already fouled.

The big problem isn’t the special effects; it’s the mediocre writing. Besides the atrocious narration, there isn’t a single distinctive bit of writing. Willem Dafoe’s villain arc is terrible, as is Dafoe’s performance.

Another problem is Danny Elfman’s score, which is for a Batman movie.

But there’s not much chance of this film being good with Laura Ziskin producing. She lets Raimi do some Raimi-esque stuff, but not really. All the quirkiness is lip service and there are some really lame conceptual decisions (the Flatiron Building and the Goblin costume come immediately to mind).

Besides Dafoe, the acting is indistinct. Either good, okay or dreadful. Wait, J.K. Simmons is fantastic.

Raimi’s New York is completely absent personality–combined with Don Burgress’s way too crisp cinematography, the film looks like the biggest budgeted Mentos commercial ever.

The CG special effects are often terrible, but a lot of the action set pieces are at least well-composed (the bridge sequence, for example).

While it’s not a complete waste of time, but Spider-Man is a definite failure.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; screenplay by David Koepp, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Bob Murawski and Arthur Coburn; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by Laura Ziskin and Ian Bryce; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn/Green Goblin), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Cliff Robertson (Ben Parker), Rosemary Harris (May Parker), J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson), Gerry Becker (Maximilian Fargas), Bill Nunn (Robbie Robertson), Jack Betts (Henry Balkan), Stanley Anderson (General Slocum), Ron Perkins (Dr. Mendel Stromm), Michael Papajohn (Carjacker), K.K. Dodds (Simkins), Ted Raimi (Hoffman), Elizabeth Banks (Betty Brant) and Bruce Campbell (Ring Announcer).


Pleasantville (1998, Gary Ross)

All through Pleasantville, I kept wondering how–for a film with so many problems–it could have not only some of the most emotionally affecting (not effective) scenes I can remember seeing, but also an overwhelming ending, which makes the whole film seem like it was better than it was… Then I saw Steven Soderbergh’s name at the end on the producer list. That one’s a cheap shot at Gary Ross, but there’s a litany of things wrong with Pleasantville.

Firstly, it makes no sense. It doesn’t establish any reasonable rules for its fantasy (in fact, it seems to be trying to play down the fact it’s a far out science fiction story about a couple kids’ adventure in an alternate reality). The people and objects colorize for emphasis, not for any logical reason. It’s distracting and cheap–Pleasantville is very cheap. It’s the intelligentsia (or what passes for them in America–and in Hollywood films for that matter–so think Spielberg, which Ross does a lot) sucker punching the right wing. There’s another problem with Pleasantville: it presents a number of complicated problems and gives them all easy solutions. Some people exist after they switch universes, others appear to be gone from the collective memory. But back the sucker punching the right wing. The bad guys in Pleasantville are a bunch of white guys who are pissed off their wives aren’t cooking them dinner. I had to remember it came out before 2001, because I really can’t see it being released otherwise until a couple years ago (when Hollywood finally stopped lionizing fascist white men). Ross is real cheap with his comparisons too–are the newly conscious people of Pleasantville supposed to be stand-ins for blacks in America circa 1958, Jews in Germany circa 1934, or something else entirely? Or all three, whenever it suits Ross for the most effective scene (he loves the Nazi imagery though).

It’s weird to see a film, recognize it’s working you over, yet still let it do that number on you. And Pleasantville does it. It might be the only film to do it.

Ross’s composition is poor, the editing of the film is atrocious, so what drives it home. Randy Newman’s score is immeasurably important and the film couldn’t work without it, but it also couldn’t work without the performances. Tobey Maguire’s been so ineffective for so long, it’s a bit of a shock to see him act so well. Reese Witherspoon is even good, though her role is very simple. But the film works because of two people–Jeff Daniels and Joan Allen. Allen’s too good for it and she brings the material up to her level. Daniels’s role is also geared to be cheap (the character goes through extraordinary change in five hours, which take place over five minutes in the film, and we’re supposed to be wowed), but his performance is touching and tragic and wonderful and the longing in the scenes between the two of them, the longing for something unknowable… it makes Pleasantville a significant and essential viewing experience. It’s a cheap film, terribly, terribly cheap, but it’s a magnificent two hours and four minutes.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Gary Ross; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by William Goldenberg; music by Randy Newman; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Ross, Jon Kilik, Robert J. Degus and Steven Soderbergh; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Tobey Maguire (David), Jeff Daniels (Mr. Johnson), Joan Allen (Betty), William H. Macy (George), J.T. Walsh (Big Bob), Don Knotts (TV Repairman), Marley Shelton (Margaret), Jane Kaczmarek (David’s Mom) and Reese Witherspoon (Jennifer).


The Ice Storm (1997, Ang Lee)

When I was a wee lad, I loved Ang Lee. I loved him only for The Ice Storm, never having seen Sense and Sensibility or his Chinese language films. I avoided Ride With the Devil after the reviews (both professional and from peers) and Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon was a truly sleep-inducing experience. I gave up my Lee love after that one, though, and when I came across The Ice Storm on Netflix, I realized I’d forgotten it. I hadn’t forgotten the book, of course, since I started reading Rick Moody about the same time I stopped seeing Ang Lee films. After reading the book, I recognized the differences, but now, watching the movie again, I can’t specifically remember them. The novel is a novel and the film is a film. The Ice Storm is the best example of a great book being adapted into a great film that I can think of….

Maybe what Lee needs is a subject as confining as The Ice Storm. Most of the shots are inside and his work there is amazing. I can’t remember a film where the focus effected me as much as this one. The story moves between 8 characters and–sometimes, not always–Lee uses the focus to signify which character’s POV we’re in. There’s a lot of juxtaposing and rhyming, but the film maintains a lyric sense about it. The music is used in an interesting way, because sometimes it does something, other times it does something similar, but entirely different. Half of the film takes place during the titular ice storm, but the film manages not to de-emphasize the first hour. The pacing makes the second hour feel like a (somewhat longer) third act, which it isn’t.

All of the acting is good, with Jamey Sheridan probably turning in the most unexpectedly excellent performance. Elijah Wood is really good too. But, it’s just such a dreary film, it’s hard enough to experience without talking about. The film–with its sudden exterior shots, just as encroaching and constrictive as its interior ones–is probably drearier than the novel even. There’s maybe five of these exterior shots–wooded path, daytime, but they resonate so strongly. They do work that the written medium cannot do, which is a hell of compliment.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ang Lee; screenplay by James Schamus, based on the novel by Rick Moody; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Ted Hope, Schamus and Lee; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Kevin Kline (Ben Hood), Joan Allen (Elena Hood), Sigourney Weaver (Janey Carver), Henry Czerny (George Clair), Tobey Maguire (Paul Hood), Christina Ricci (Wendy Hood), Elijah Wood (Mikey Carver), Adam Hann-Byrd (Sandy Carver), David Krumholtz (Francis Davenport), Jamey Sheridan (Jim Carver) and Katie Holmes (Libbets Casey).


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