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Warm Winter Weather

Despite its Grey Colors - The Shipping News is Bright

Are you scared of the water? Do you remember the first time you learned to swim? The way you floundered about with wailing limbs and a gasping mouth. Some people never recover from the experience and refuse to get back into the water afterwards; they are scarred for life. The main character in The Shipping News, known as Quoyle, is decidedly "not a water person".

He much more prefers the seedy and run-down landlocked towns of upstate New York where he can drown himself in dreariness rather than the sea. Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) is a failed loser who goes back to the "land of his people" -- a place where people speak English with an accent somewhere between Irish and British although they live in Newfoundland, Canada -- after a terrible accident changes his life. He makes the move with his precocious daughter Bunny (played by triplets - Alyssa, Kaitlyn and Lauren Gainer), who reminds one of Anna Paquin's character in The Piano, and his aunt Agnis Hamm (Judi Dench) a tough cookie who functions as the film's oracle.

However, he returns only to find out that his family history is chock full of unsavory secrets and ghosts. But all is not lost, things shape up and his life takes a turn for the better. He lands a job as a reporter for the local paper (which serves as more of a sensationalistic tabloid than actual newspaper) covering car wrecks and the shipping news. He also gets his groove on with Wavey Prowse (Julianne Moore), a strong single mom who intrigues Quoyle and adds a bit of romance and fun to the plot. And fun is exactly what he needs after being married to Petal Bear (Cate Blanchett), a total bitch who officially wins the prize as the world's worst mother.

The Shipping News at first might seem dark and dreary but it is actually full of hope and humor without becoming a complete melodramatic cheese-fest. This, in part, can be attributed to the skills of the Swedish director Lasse Hallström, whose filmography includes: Chocolat (cheesy), The Cider House Rules (semi-cheesy) and What's Eating Gilbert Grape (not cheesy), and the sharp writing of E. Annie Proulx on whose Pulitzer Prize winning novel the film is based. The author herself is a resident of Newfoundland - and helps to bring a strong sense of setting and a feel for the land to the screen. Indeed, there is a water motif that adds a surrealistic and inventive air to the movie that wouldn't exist if it were not based on a book. Furthermore, a powerful soundtrack and stunning cinematography couple together to support the engaging plot and stellar cast.

The commanding actor Pete Postlethwaite plays Tert X. Card, an opportunistic newspaper editor whose complicated character is difficult to judge, and Blanchett nails her role as Petal. Although the part is small, she is absolutely great and proves her skill as an actress; the woman is a chameleon. Spacey is witty and wins the sympathy of his audience; you really root for him. He doesn't wallow in self-pity but changes and grows. You can expect an Academy Award nomination for Kevin Spacey.

The Shipping News is surprisingly good and will be able to subtly lift your spirits from the doldrums of winter weather.


The Shipping News
Rated R
2 hours 4 minutes

Kevin Spacey
Julianne Moore
Cate Blanchett
Judi Dench
Scott Glenn