If you liked Lasse Hallström’s similarly toned adaptations of Chocolat and The Cider House Rules, chances are you won’t be overly surprised or disappointed by The Shipping News.Kevin Spacey endears as the softly spoken, weak-willed Quoyle, in an against-type performance. Quoyle and his young daughter are towed in the wake of Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) after Quoyle’s wife perishes in a car crash. Cate Blanchett, in stilettos and leather miniskirt, ignites the screen in her brief appearance as Quoyle’s vampish wife. She struts around like a cat on heat.
Agnis is returning to the desolate Quoyle ancestral home on the wintry Newfoundland coastline. She has childhood ghosts to confront. A variety of familiar actors (Scott Glenn, Pete Postlethwaite, Rhys Ifans) swell the ranks of the Newfoundlanders. Only Julianne Moore seems out of place. She conquers the unusual accent, but doesn’t seem rugged enough for this territory, where pirates once ruled the waters.
It’s a lot easier to watch The Shipping News than it is to read E Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel. The film’s pace is leisurely, but there’s a compelling rhythm to Hallström’s graceful direction and Andrew Mondshein’s editing. Family confrontation and dark secrets are taken in stride by the characters, who learn to shrug off the demons in their past. Quoyle reconnects with his manhood, recovers his self-esteem and is healed by love.Oliver Stapleton’s cinematography keeps proceedings from becoming mawkish. Whereas the winter scenes in Chocolat glowed warmly, Stapleton doesn’t soften The Shipping News’ omnipresent whitish-grey light. He gives Newfoundland a bleak look, but also captures its harsh, natural beauty.