The Shipping News

It's getting near to the end of the year, which means it's about time for another Miramax/Lasse Hallstrom adaptation. The Shipping News, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Annie Proulx, is the third film in the collaboration after The Cider House Rules and Chocolat. Again, the movie deals with individuality, and has many of the same themes as Cider House. A man is searching for meaning in his life, and in this case, he goes back to his roots to look. As with the other recent Hallstrom films, The Shipping News looks gorgeous and is well acted. Only this time, the material is not as compelling. Quoyle (Kevin Spacey, K-PAX, Pay It Forward) is the man in question, a simple loser with roots in Newfoundland.

His marriage to Petal (Cate Blanchett, The Fellowship of the Ring, Bandits) is a joke. She cheats on him, has no respect for him, and leaves him to care for their daughter Bunny (played by identical triplets Alyssa, Kaitlyn, and Lauren Gainer, Cast Away). Things become so bad that she sells Bunny to an adoption agency and leaves with a man, but before she gets anywhere she dies in a car crash. His aunt, Agnis Hamm (Judi Dench, Into the Arms of Strangers, Chocolat) arrives on her way back to Newfoundland, and with nothing left holding him, Quoyle and Bunny leave with her. In Newfoundland, he gets a job writing for the local newspaper and begins adjust to life in a more rural setting. One of these adjustments is Wavey Prouse (Julianne Moore, Hannibal, Evolution), a widow and mother of a developmentally disabled boy. Wavey and Quoyle begin a hesitant relationship; Quoyle because he still has strong feelings for Petal and Wavey for reasons disclosed later in the film.

Hallstrom and screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs (Chocolat, Dinosaur) go a little overboard with the water imagery. Quoyle is drowning in Petal and his old life. Newfoundland, his new job, and Wavey are the things that will save him. It's odd that a man can find renewal and life in a place as barren as Newfoundland. Quoyle lives in his family's old house, a crumbling relic near the beach. The point is that appearances are deceiving. Everybody believes Quoyle (the English spelling of 'coil') is incapable of living in the small town except Jack Buggit (Scott Glenn, Vertical Limit, Training Day), who trusts him enough to give him the paper job. Otherwise, it feels like Hallstrom is trying too hard to please the audience. Jacobs toned down the source material to make it more palatable for movie audiences. The slow relationship is rewarding, but other supplemental plot threads including one involving Buggit's son, Quoyle's problems at work, the house, and Agnis, all never come to anything meaningful other than to help establish atmosphere.

Spacey is working at the top of his game. The Shipping News is a journey for Quoyle's character, and it is believable because of Spacey. Spacey begins as a reluctant, introverted man and slowly changes into a happy, satisfied man. His love for Petal stems from the fact that she is the only exciting thing in an otherwise dull life. Spacey has played similar characters in the past, and it works for him. He has great support from Dench at her crotchety best, and a free spirit Blanchett, but their roles are small enough to amount to acting exercises. Other standouts in the cast are Glenn, Gordon Pinset (Blind Terror, The Old Man and the Sea) as Quoyle's co-worker, and the always great Pete Postlewaithe (Ring of Fire, Rat) as Quoyle's wannabe editor.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 51 minutes, Rated R for some language, sexuality and disturbing images.

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