danheller.com

Thumb Rating System
Full List of Movies
You Are Here:  Movie Reviews  >  Shipping News

Dan Heller's Movie Review of "Shipping News"


This page has 4 images
Click to recommend this page:
thumbs, movies, photograph thumbs, movies, photograph thumbs, down, movies, photograph
magnifier.gif
Julianne Moore and Kevin Spacey
shipping news, movies, photograph
Lasse Hallstrom's films, such as The Cider House Rules and Chocolat, tell convincingly life-affirming stories about the strength of the human spirit, where characters come to terms with the unearthing of long-held taboo secrets. The messages in his films often suggest that moral boundaries are crossed more often than not, and everyone eventually has to face the skeletons in their closets. In his latest film, The Shipping News, Hallstrom continues in this tradition exceptionally well. The problem is, the film is based on the Pulitzer-prize winning novel of the same name by E. Annie Proulx, and films often pale in comparison to their literary counterparts. This film is no exception.

magnifier.gif
Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore
shipping news, movies, photograph
The movie stars Kevin Spacey, as the hapless Mr. Quoyle, a simpleton who works as an ink setter for a newspaper. He fumbles into a marriage in name only, and has a child named Bunny. His wife dies about ten years later, after having sold their daughter to a black market adoption agency and trying to escape with a barfly she recently met. It's when Quoyle's father dies that his life takes a change. It turns out his father had a stepsister named Agnis (Judi Dench), who shows up one day to claim his ashes, and Quoyle decides to follow her back to Newfoundland, with daughter Bunny in tow. There, the three begin a new life in the long-abandoned house his father and Agnis grew up in, and where Quoyle slowly learns of his ugly family secrets of murder, incest and rape. Through a complex series of events and relationships, Quoyle evolves a new sense of reconciliation and purpose in life

magnifier.gif
Kevin Spacey and Judi Dench
shipping news, movies, photograph
As a churning backdrop of the cold and desolate seascape of Canada's Newfoundland, the movie evokes the same emotions from its characters and from the audience. Mood is the major strength of the film, and is done so effectively that it almost overshadows its weaker points. All the performances are top-notch, the story is compelling, and the messages are cognizant of human emotion. So, what's wrong? It's Quoyle himself. This isn't really Kevin Spacey's fault; there's no question that his performance is one of his best, and this grade-A film owes its success to the depth and warmth he portrays. No, it's that there is still something not quite right about the character that irked me. To understand that, we have to go to the source: the book itself.

magnifier.gif
Julianne Moore
shipping news, movies, photograph
I hesitate to do this so reactively, since literary works and movies are inherently different narrative forms, and comparing one with the other is, in my opinion, like comparing apples and oranges. Movies, by their nature, are forced to focus on a smaller set of issues than a book, but, if done well, they can be extraordinarily moving on the same storyline. The challenge for a filmmaker is to choose which parts of the book to adapt and express well. In the case of The Shipping News, the main thrust of the book is Quoyle. Ms. Proulx's characterization of him is that of a physically grotesque and freakish oaf, and it is partially this persona that makes the impact of the things that happen to him have the profound effect that is felt from the book. By contrast, Spacey's portrayal of Quoyle is too "normal" and likeable, both in his personality and his physical presence to have the kinds of quirks and inconsistently positive/negative behaviors that he's supposed to have.

There are other differences in depictions between the film and the novel, but I can more easily forgive them as creative interpretations by two equally gifted story-tellers and mediums. That Hallstrom beautifies scenics or other features of the story that the novel is less sentimental about is an example of this. Again, the book was much better, but the movie is hardly an unmoving experience. It's fantastic. But not acknowledging the main thrust of the main character is where I take exception.

I understand that it's nearly impossible to compress an incredible novel into a two hour movie, so I'm more forgiving than others may be. In fact, as a film, I found The Shipping News to be one of the best I've seen in ages. If you don't read the book, you may even agree.

Click to recommend this page: