The Shipping News (15)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner03/01/2002

Four out of five stars
Running time: 120 mins

Well-made, impressively acted, faithful adaptation of Proulx’s novel – gorgeous location photography and great performances by all concerned.

Given the fact that The Shipping News is packed to the gills with Oscar-friendly talent (winners Spacey, Dench, Blanchett, nominees Moore, Postlethwaite), directed by an Oscar-nominated director (Lasse Hallstrom, who made The Cider House Rules and Chocolat) and produced by the Oscar-winning Machine that is Miramax, it is somewhat surprising that it failed to pick up a single Oscar nomination this year.

Still, it’s an entertaining film, enlivened by some gorgeous photography and a clutch of impressive performances. It’s true that not all that much actually happens, but somehow, you don’t seem to mind.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News stars Kevin Spacey as Quoyle, a mild-mannered, possibly slightly simple man (like the book, the film never addresses this), who meets and marries the local slapper, Petal (Cate Blanchett, effortlessly stealing the film) and then moves to Newfoundland with their daughter Bunny, after his wife is killed in a tragic accident.

Once in Newfoundland, Quoyle moves into the dilapidated ‘family home’ on Quoyle Point with his aunt, Agnis Hamm (Judi Dench), and gets a job on the local paper, the ‘Gammy Bird’, alongside quirky characters such as Jack Buggit (Scott Glenn), Tert Card (Pete Postlethwaite) and Nutbeam (Rhys Ifans, single-handedly redeeming himself for all the other rubbish he's been in lately), and, inevitably, meets a woman (Julianne Moore as Wavey Prowse).

The cast are excellent. Spacey, in particular, is on top form – his performance is remarkably low-key and not at all ‘showy’, which it could so easily have been. As a result, he is extremely impressive in the role. Judi Dench and Julianne Moore don't have all that much to do (save for one particular scene), but they're equally impressive, as always.

However, it's Cate Blanchett as Petal that will stay with you, particularly after their excellent initial meeting scene and her slightly obscene (but highly effective) chat-up line. Blanchett is in the film for less than twenty minutes, but it's as if Quoyle is left spinning in her wake throughout the rest of the film, which is entirely appropriate, so it works very well.

The rest of the support cast are equally good (particularly Postlethwaite, Glenn and Ifans), with the possible exception of Jason Behr (from Roswell and Dawson’s Creek), who sports the worst ‘Oirish’ accent since Brad Pitt in The Devil’s Own.

There is a lot to enjoy here - the film makes terrific use of actual locations and is gorgeous to look at (courtesy of cinematographer Oliver Stapleton), with the ‘real’ weather giving a strong sense of what Newfoundland must be like. There are also some nice verbal gags (one of the best things about the book) as Quoyle gets into the habit of making up headlines about the day-to-day details of his life, such as "Bumbling Man Humiliated At Day-Care Centre"…

It’s true that, as with the novel, the film is quite slow-paced and that nothing much seems to happen – however, Hallstrom ensures that there is always something to look at and the film, though slow, is never dull.

Similarly, the film refreshingly avoids the mawkish sentimentality common to most dramas involving family secrets – the secrets come out, but those scenes are well handled and more effective for being underplayed.

In short, then, The Shipping News is worth seeing for the calibre of its performances and for its spectacular use of scenery and location. Fans of the book won’t be disappointed and the film is even worth seeing if you didn’t like the book. Recommended.

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The Shipping News (15)
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Content updated: 17/12/2017 04:26

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