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Shipping News - An eBerg Review
January 11, 2002
{Author: eBerg Staff}


Reviewing The Shipping News is a difficult prospect for a staunch Newfoundlander. It's like undertaking a critique of your daughter's wor k in the elementary school Christmas pageant. There has been so much positive energy and anticipation swirling around the movie, filmed predominantly in the Trinity area, that Newfoundlanders were salivating to see what director Lasse Halstrom would do with Annie E. Proulx's bleak Pulitzer winning novel about an emotionally-beaten inksetter who moves to his fictional ancestral home in Quoyle's Point, Newfoundland.

Kevin Spacey shows tremendous range as Quoyle, a broken New York man who has a desperate, unrequited love for the promiscuous, predatory Petal Bear (Cate Blanchett.) Petal dies in a car crash running off with another man, and leaves Quoyle in shards with daughter Bunny. Enter stern Aunt Agnis Hamm (Judie Dench), who brings Quoyle and Bunny to their ancestral home in Newfoundland, where family secrets are unlocked and Quoyle undertakes a journey of discovery.

Spacey's portrayal of Quoyle is an enormous stretch from his assertive, clever roles of Seargent Jack Vincennes in LA Confidential, Jim Williams in Midnight in the Gander of Good and Evil and Lester Burnham in American Beauty. As Quoyle, Spacey doesn't so much act as react - perfectly capturing a placid man who watches life swirling around him without actually participating.

The Shipping News does an apt job of capturing Newfoundland culture. Moreover, the scenery in Trinity is the movie's premier star - with the water, the house and the environment serving as particularly strong metaphors. To us, it's the beauty of home we enjoy everyday, but other critics were gushing. Some samples:

"Halltstrom and Co. back up the story with truly breathtaking locations. Amongst the rocks, snow and sea, nothing seems to suit this winding tale of mysteries greater than the very environment that has been holding them for centuries."

"The beautiful cliffs and shores of Newfoundland, which really come across as having a life of its own in the film, also stunningly accent The Shipping News."

"The movie makes good use of the magnificent locations." - Roger Ebert

Frequent references to the weather ("Snow in May?" Quoyle moans), elicited hearty laughs from local audiences.

The Newfoundland Touches.
The Shipping News is a fair portrayal of rural Newfoundland. There was some apprehension that the film would accent the "hokiness" of small town life that Holywood adores, but with few exceptions it's snapshot into our culture, although we've never heard tell of a "squid burger."

Local beer features prominently, and the indoor settings many Newfoundlanders will recognize as their own.

Jason Behr as carpenter Dennis Buggit absolutely nailed the accent, and Scott Glenn as Jack Buggit really looked the part and did a decent job gutting a codfish. Dame Judie Dench was a powerhouse, playing that grim Aunt everyone seems to have in their family. Julianne Moore did a wonderful job in an understated performance as Wavey Prowse, but her accent was more Irish than anything else. Okay, maybe it could pass for southern shore dialect.

Which brings us to Gordon Pinsent. People on set in Trinity relayed stories of a man who walked right past Oscar-winner Spacey to shake Pinsent's hand. He doesn't dissappoint, bringing a richness of character to a supporting role and working brilliantly alongside Spacey. His performance makes us long for more.

There are lots of references to the weather, seal flipper pie, moose accidents, patridgeberry duff and other hallmarks of our culture, and all of it was done with a measure of sincerity.

An overview.
Trying to package a winding novel in a film is a difficult prospect. More daunting was the task of creating a palatable film which deals with dark issues like incest, rape and beheadings. Hallstrom does a good job, although the movie seems to be confused as to which subplot to follow and doesn't bow to the typical "tie-the-ribbon" Hollywood ending - which is good or bad, depending on what you demand from a film. Many critics have derided the film as an Oscar factory, but it has taken a beating at the box office alongside giants like Lord of the Rings and A Beautiful Mind.

However, Hallstrom's cinematic touch and a host of great performances made The Shipping News a good film. After you see it, ask yourself whether you would have still enjoyed it were it set and filmed in Norway. This may be a good measure of its value.

From here.
There is a sustained buzz about Newfoundland's potential as a film location, and this has been a banner year for the industry on the Rock. Rare Birds earned rave reviews from the staunchest of critics and set the Toronto Film Festival afire. We can only hope for more.