Movie Review by Kris Griffiths
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench, Scott Glenn, Rhys Ifans, Pete Postlethwaite
Director: Lasse Hallström
Newfoundland is quite a depressing place. It’s what Australians must think of England when they flock here every year: cold, wet, grey, and full of half cheerful / half miserable natives who find solace in complaining about it. Located off the northeast corner of Canada, it is the rainiest, snowiest, windiest and foggiest part of the country – not a place where you’d expect anything really dramatic or exciting to happen. Funnily enough, despite its adaptation from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by E. Annie Proulx and a wave of Oscar-fuelled hype, nothing really dramatic or exciting happens in THE SHIPPING NEWS.
Well actually the first quarter of an hour is quite watchable. We see Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) living a drab and lonely life as an ink setter in New York when one day his path crosses with cheap hustler Petal (Cate Blanchett), who turns out to be one of the big screen’s more unpleasant female characters. Her opening gambit, “It’s now 8:05. I think I’m gonna fuck you by 10”, is enough to win his desperate heart and after honouring her romantic promise she ends up giving birth to a daughter. Six years of boredom later, Petal runs away with little Bunny and one of her many boyfriends but only makes it as far as the local riverbed where she drowns in a car crash. Bunny survives when it turns out she had just been sold for adoption, but this relieving news is swiftly followed by the death of both of Quoyle’s parents. And just when things couldn’t get any worse, he is convinced by Aunty Agnis (Judi Dench) to move away for a fresh start at his ancestral home in a tiny Newfoundland fishing village.
And from there onwards things move along at the pace of slowly melting snow, and there’s enough of it on the wintry island. Quoyle gets a job as a shipping news reporter with the local rag, becomes close friends with a local widow and er, that’s pretty much it. The already strong acting trio of Spacey, Dench and Blanchett is enhanced by the new additions of Newfoundland natives Julianne Moore, Rhys Ifans and Pete Postlethwaite, but none of their characters are particularly interesting in any way. Everyone speaks in a peculiar Irish accent (apart from Ifans the Brit with his stilted English accent), and they all conceal dark ‘secrets’ about relatives dying watery deaths around the island, but we end up hearing about so many car-crashes and ship-sinkings that it all becomes a bit confusing.
This ‘secrets’ theme, which the movie and novel revolve around, provides only a few brief snatches of drama or conflict in the form of flashbacks, such as Quoyle’s visions of his pirate ancestors eagerly plundering a helpless vessel. The rest of the film slowly sinks under its own overblown pretensions to pathos and grandeur. In fact, while other reviewers will sing its praises and shower it with Oscar nomination tips, the only truly great thing about it I could see was the stunning cinematography of the island’s bleak and jagged landscape. Unfortunately, it equally blesses and curses the film with an overpowering dullness already screaming from its title. THE SHIPPING NEWS is two hours of tedium you’ll want to avoid.