Monday, July 9, 2012
Movie Review: The Shipping News (2001)
A slice of small town mythology set in Atlantic Canada, The Shipping News contains plenty of heart but little spirit. Although likable enough, the story fundamentally lacks a purpose, resulting in characters wallowing in an aimless breeze of nostalgia.
Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) convinces Quoyle to relocate with Bunny to the family's ancestral home on the jagged coast of Newfoundland. They find a dilapidated but still standing wreck of a house anchored to a windy cliff, and start their life over, with Quoyle securing a job as a reporter covering shipping news for the local newspaper. He gradually starts to learn his family's incredible history, while getting to know the local colourful characters. Quoyle also starts a tentative relationship with the widow Wavey Prowse (Julianne Moore), the elementary school teacher who harbours personal family secrets of her own.
Once Quoyle, Bunny and Agnis relocate to Newfoundland, The Shipping News struggles to find a compelling navigational direction. In the hands of director Lasse Hallstrom, the adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's 1993 Pulitzer Prize winning novel fragments into a series of splintered encounters with the locals and with history, never less than interesting but failing to click into a cohesive whole. The overall taste is that of cold detachment, the film as passive a Quoyle's personality, waiting for things to happen and rarely setting an engaging agenda.
Kevin Spacey is an empty shell as Quoyle, a performance that requires the projection of quashed emptiness. Judi Dench is the stoic aunt, camouflaging deep scars of her own. Julianne Moore has little to do except encourage Quoyle to meet the future while she evades her past, and Scott Glenn hides behind a lot of bombast as Jack Buggit, the newspaper owner and local warrior, savvy enough to cheat death itself. Cate Blanchett is entertaining and exaggerated as the self-centred Petal, but she is not in the movie long enough to alter the pervasive energy level.
The Shipping News promises smooth sailing, but loses an oar in choppy seas.
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