The Shipping News Reviews
Once the story makes the transition to the snowy coasts of Newfoundland, I found myself elevated to a whole another level of movie experience. Maybe it has to do something with the going-back-to-roots premise of the movie. Photographic grandeur of the breathtaking landscapes plays its part in that feeling too.
Movie features powerful performances from a clutch of well recognized talents. The simple story can basically be described as one about our search for a place in the world and about coming to grips with the past. Lass Hallstrom, who gave us "What's eating Gilbert Grape", leaves you with a similar experience when you're through with this movie.
Director: Lasse Hallström
Summary: Distraught after the disappearance of his estranged wife, Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) and his daughter move into their ancestral home with his long-lost aunt (Judi Dench) in Newfoundland, where life is rough and secrets are buried deep. When Quoyle lands a job as a reporter for the local newspaper, a past emerges, a mystery unfolds and life awakens. Lasse Hallström directs this drama based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by E. Annie Proulx.
My Thoughts: "Such a great story. Kevin Spacey delivers another flawless performance. He is a favorite of mine and he never disappoints in any film he does. His character Quoyle, in the beginning seemed very naive and to be honest, pathetic. Though his new life in Newfoundland brings with it a fresh start, and you slowly see his demeanor change. He becomes confident and strong in the sense of him finally finding himself. The story itself is a bit depressing in the beginning, but the mood changes throughout the film . The tale is sad, but the ending is satisfying. I liked the symbolism of the house. Just a great story with a great cast. Love Judi Dench. See it if you haven't."
Lasse Hallström always had a taste in drama's with plenty of lighthearted elements, but with this film, he really lets the tightness of his grip on tonal dynamicity slip, as plenty of lighter, almost comedic aspects go punctuated a touch too firmly by dramatic, maybe even tense highlights, resulting in near-glaring tonal inconsistencies that are much more recurring than they should be, and shake tonal impact, with the help of something of a consistency heavy-handedness. Colorfully drawn enough for you to bond reasonably comfortably with the characters and this narrative, this story is still questionably drawn, even with its characterization, which goes plagued with overblown character traits and plot happenings that are sometimes too far-fetched to buy into, particularly when they touch the film's more dramatic and thematic elements, thinning subtlety to a considerable degree. The film has been criticized as rather heavy-handed in its script, and yes, I do indeed agree, and Hallström's role in the storytelling doesn't exactly make things any more realized, as it sometimes takes on the director's trademark atmospheric sentimentality to make the scripted histrionics all the more glaring. Of course, when Hallström signature sentimentality doesn't kick in as a plague on intrigue, he's plaguing intrigue with his signature atmospheric cold spells, established through a certain quiet thoughtfulness that is usually easier to get past in Hallström's other, more entertaining dry efforts, but actually kind of dulling here. For this, we have to place yet more blame on screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs, whose efforts are plenty of clever, but not exactly consistent with the material that Hallström usually draws on with his dry directorial thoughtfulness, going bloated with aimless filler and even excess material that bloats the narrative to an unfocused point whose aimlessness only grows more and more distancing the more storytelling meanders. The film starts out pretty promising as yet another thoroughly endearing effort by Hallström, but once it gets going, it goes too slow for comfort, gradually losing momentum under the weight of aimlessness, unevenness and heavy-handedness, until the final product finds itself wearing pretty deeply into underwhelmingness. The film falls quite a distance shy of what it could have been, yet what it ultimately is is an endearing dramedy, even stylistically speaking.
Composed by the popular Christopher Young, this film's score, when actually played upon, is usually a touch too minimalist to be all that exciting, and when it does pick up, it falls into conventions, yet there's still something very tasteful about Young's atmospheric, somewhat celtic styles, which capture the drly colorful tone of the film about as much as often flat, but just as often nifty cinematography. Even style kind of loses momentum after a while, possibly because it's never truly outstanding enough for you to not gradually get used to it, but there's no denying that there is aesthetic appeal to draw you in, even if it's not as important of a compliment to the themes of this near-grimy dramedy as, say, the script. Robert Nelson Jacobs' script is instrumental in bringing about the film's downfall into underwhelmingness, because where Lasse Hallström's direction, at least at this point, was usually met with enough material for his thoughtfulness and sentimentality to be generally pretty effective, tonal and narrative structuring issues to Jacobs' efforts go a long way in defusing the final product's momentum, and yet, there's still plenty of wit to endear you to the script, which is at its most endearing when it's at its most realized with characterization. Needless to say, when these highlights in material kick in, that's where highlights in Hallström's direction comes in, with pacing and sentimental thoughtfulness that, upon finding material to draw upon, compels as a punctuation to a reasonable degree of entertainment value which Hallström establishes through subtle plays on style and wit. I'm not saying that this film's story is all that meaty, but there's still something missing out of the interpretation of this traditional tale regarding finding new depths in yourself in a new setting, and yet, when inspiration meets ambition, the film endears as a light character study, anchored by worthy character portrayals. Once again, Hallström assembles a solid cast of respectable talents, every one of whom has only so much to work with, but delivers nonetheless, at least on charisma, particularly within Judi Dench, Julianne Moore, the quickly dismissed Cate Blanchett, and, of course, leading man Kevin Spacey, whose trademark subdued charm, while too formulaic as part of a Kevin Spacey performance, is open enough for Spacey to serve as an audience avatar, but tight enough to make Spacey an endearing lead by his own right, especially when occasions of actually pretty powerful emoting kick in. I don't know if this film can afford to have all that subdued of a lead, as most everything else is too subdued for its own good, yet just as Spacey practically compels with his quiet charm, Hallström endears with his own somber charm, which is realized enough to entertain adequately, with dramatic highlights, however limited they may be.
Once the docks are reached, the final product sinks into underwhelmingness under the weight of tonal unevenness, heavy-handedness, a certain atmospheric coldness, and much meandering plotting, but through a tasteful score and visual style, clever writing, thoughtful direction and charismatic performances, "The Shipping News" charms as a fair and sometimes effective, if rather forgettable affair.
2.5/5 - Fair
To anyone who watched Lord of the Rings and thinks Cate Blanchett is just this well of elf-like beauty, poise, love and grace ? HA.
The story of The Shipping News starts with Quoyle, a young-ish man who has seen himself as a failure all his life because, as a young boy, his father pushed him into the river to teach him how to swim, but he never learned. After that, his outlook on life had been totally destroyed, and he aspired to minimalism, getting sleep-inducing jobs as a ticket-checker, a dish-washer, and an ink setter. But one day, while on his way home after a particularly unsatisfactory day at his workplace, scruffy, worldly-naïve Quoyle sees a man and a beautiful young woman arguing, and, before he knows it, the woman has let herself into his car and is telling him to drive, which he does. Over a cheap meal, the woman introduces herself as ?Petal?, and seduces Quoyle, telling him that she wants to fuck him ? then and there. After a rousing round, Quoyle confesses his love to her. She is the best thing to ever happen to him in his disappointing life.
Soon after, Petal begrudgingly bears him the child she conceived during their round of sex ? a beautiful baby girl, whom they name Bunny. Quoyle soon finds himself the lone caretaker for Bunny, as Petal is constantly at bars, or hooking up with other men and bringing them home for one-night stands. Soon, Quoyle gets a call from his father telling him that he and Quoyle?s mother had decided to commit suicide, because they decided ?it was about time?. When Quoyle tells Petal that he has been left with nothing, she decides to run away with her current boyfriend, taking Bunny with them and leaving Quoyle alone.
Quoyle reports this to the police, and soon his wife and daughter are found. His daughter is returned to him ? but his wife is dead. After selling Bunny to a black-market adoption agency for six thousand dollars, Petal and her boyfriend took a slippery bridge road, lost control of the car, and cascaded off the side, their car getting caught on the railing, both dying on contact. Quoyle is then visited by the sister of his late father, who takes him and his little daughter back to Newfoundland with her to get to know the land their ancestors originated from ? and hopefully to help him and his daughter heal from their scarred past.
For the first twenty minutes of the film, it was very good. VERY good. Quoyle was one of the most sympathetic characters I have ever seen in any film I?ve ever watched. And, as he begins to grow as a person and become something more than just a failure, you would think he would grow to be an even more likeable character ? independent, a better father, successful. Instead, Quoyle, as he gains independence and gets to know the people and the land around him, becomes a whiny, bratty little bitch. If something goes wrong, he has to complain to someone about it. If something horrible happens, he can?t just learn to let it go, he has to yell at someone about it ? usually someone who had nothing to do with it in the first place.
And Bunny? Bunny is cute, but MAN is she bizarre. Petal told her once that ?Daddy is boring?, and from them on, she has judged everything as being ?boring?, from her doll, which she destroys in a fit of anger, to the children of the village, including the special-needs child of the woman in which Quoyle develops an interest ? but pretty much destroys any chance of being with by drinking himself stupid and trying to rape her, then passing out on her kitchen floor.
I would not recommend purchasing this film. I did, and I wasted a whole eight dollars. However, the soundtrack is phenomenal, full of the sounds of native Newfoundland. If the plot of the film, however, intrigues you, then you should perhaps rent it ? if you can find it.