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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Shipping News

A tale of broken heritage and redemption

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 2, 2002 -- "The Shipping News" is an uneven melodramatic tale of a mousey man adrift in the sea of life who finally learns how to set his sail and his heading. Based on the Pulitzer prize-winning book by E. Annie Proulx (who lives about 32 miles from my house, in Centennial, Wyo.), this is a highly amusing tale that is probably supposed to be more serious than it seemed to be on the screen.

Oscar winner Kevin Spacey stars as R.G. Quoyle (no first name is given in the book), a cipher of a man who has been ignored all of his life. He is finally noticed by a man-eater known as Petal Bear (played with a hilarious hormonal fury by Cate Blanchett of "Lord of the Rings"). She leaves him with two daughters to raise, but only one of them made it into the movie. The daughter's name is, I kid you not, Bunny (played by Alyssa, Kaitlyn and Lauren Gainer). Quoyle (named after the kind of coil of rope you can step over on a deck without tripping over it) is wallowing around helplessly after his wife's death when his long lost aunt Agnis drops by. She hauls him off to the family home near Killick-Claw, Newfoundland for no particular reason. Since Quoyle has no will of his own, he does not resist.

Quoyle has some experience as an ink proofer on a newspaper so he stops by the local weekley newspaper to see if he can get a job in the print shop. No openings there, but the oddball publisher, Jack Buggit (Scott Glenn of "Vertical Limit"), hires Quoyle as a reporter on a whim. It is a job he is woefully unqualified for. However, it turns out he does have some talent. He can spot a story if one happens to smack him in the face. He begins to learn the craft. That part of the story is interesting to me because I worked on small newspapers for 25 years and I recognized the characters in the office.

Quoyle takes up residence in a run-down house anchored to a remote rock peninsula with heavy cables so it won't blow away in the wind. It is the cursed ancestral Quoyle home and Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench of "Chocolat") has returned there because she thinks you can go home again. It is worth the price of admission, by the way, to see what she does with her brother's ashes. It is the funniest thing in a funny film. I was laughing out loud when the film gets to the pirate ancestry of the Quoyles (why not cannibals? I wondered). This is so over the top it is a scream.

The hapless Quoyle begins to pull himself together at The Shipping News. He finally has a sense of self-esteem and confidence. He begins to make advances with the pretty schoolteacher (Julianne Moore of "Hannibal") and even finds the spine to stand up to his corrosive boss, editor Tert X. Card (Pete Postlethwaite of "Amistad"). There are more hoops to jump through in the plot before Quoyle gets his sea legs. The film is hilarious, even though it is supposed to be a little more serious than it turns out to be. One of the film's funniest scenes is a going away party for a reporter who has spent years restoring his wrecked Chinese junk. He plans to sail away after the party. You won't believe what happens.

Spacey is probably not the ideal guy to be playing Quoyle, because he has too much charisma, but he does a surprisingly good job with it by dialing his energy level down to near absolute zero. Dench is fabulous as usual and the Gainer triplets are convincing as Bunny. There is the usual array of colorful small town characters, and cinematographer Oliver Stapleton effectively captures the rugged beauty of the place. I don't know if this is a good screen adaptation or not, because I haven't read the book, but it is sure fun to watch the film. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)