"The Ice Storm," based on Rick Moody's infamous novel about the "swinging" '70s, actually deals with the fallout from the excessive lifestyles of many families, from the parents down to the children.
In his faithful and intelligent adaptation of the book, director Ang Lee ("Sense and Sensibility," "Eat Drink Man Woman") follows the Hoods, a Connecticut family, circa 1973, as their obsessions force them to slowly skid out of control and onto thin ice.
There's also a metaphorical iciness between family members that's much colder than the freak winter storm that gives the film its name.
Patriarch Ben Hood (Kevin Kline), frustrated at work and at home, is busy carrying on an affair with his neighbor, Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver). But his wife Elena (Joan Allen) is just as irritated by Ben's uncommunicative nature and isn't nearly as clueless as he thinks.
Meanwhile, their teenage children Wendy (Christina Ricci) and Paul (Tobey Maguire) are experimenting with drugs and in her case, sex, with neighbor Mikey Carver (Elijah Wood) and his painfully shy brother, Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd).
Things come to a head, tragically, following the family's Thanksgiving dinner. While Ben and Elena obliviously head off to a "key party," where couples are supposed to "swap" partners, Wendy and Mikey explore the deadly ice storm bombarding the coastline.
Oddly enough, the Taiwanese-born Lee manages to capture the look and sound of the '70s better (at least more accurately) than Paul Thomas Anderson did in "Boogie Nights."
He also films things in a creepy, detached and chilly manner that effectively conveys the feel of the Hood family's at-arms-length relationships, and makes the shocking ending that much more emotional.
And it certainly doesn't hurt that there's an Oscar-caliber screenplay (by longtime Lee collaborator James Schamus) and excellent ensemble cast (Kline, Weaver and Ricci are superb, as is the always-solid Allen).