Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Reappraisal: The Shipping News (2001)
Proulx’s muscular writing reveled in the Newfoundland landscape’s harshness, the brutality of existence there, and the characters’ devastating flaws. While the book has a certain folksy charm, director Lasse Hallstrom has turned it into a feel-good movie about a man’s redemption and reduces the book’s powerful revelations and ghoulish discoveries to cheap comic bits. Scripter Robert Nelson Jacobs’ makes a few significant changes from the book, some more effective than others. Quoyle now has one daughter instead of two, which solves the book’s lone miscalculation that the selfish Petal would have stayed around long enough to have a second child. An important subplot about incest, only gradually revealed in the novel, however, is bungled, when a previously unseen character blurts out the truth with ridiculous expediency.
Although a terrific actor, Spacey is dead wrong for Quoyle, described as a large, heavyset man with lumbering gait and slow wit. His eyes always convey that something is going on in that head, and you are never convinced that this is not a smart man. Julianne Moore has a thankless role as single mother Wavey, similarly wounded butwhose only function is to awaken Quoyle’s squashed spirit, while Blanchett’s screen time is miniscule. The best performance belongs to Dench, as a jaded cynic whose sass belies years of emotional hardships. Stripped of Proulx's sad stoicism, the film is wildly uneven, with some good performances but slack direction, evocative imagery but a glacial pace.
- by Jonathan Lewis