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Movie Review

The Shipping News

MPAA Rating: R for some language, sexuality and disturbing images

Reviewed by: Christopher Okkerse

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
2 hr. 4 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
December 25, 2001
Relevant Issues
Kevin Spacey and Julieanne Moore in “The Shipping News”
Featuring: Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench, Scott Glenn, Rhys Ifans, Pete Postlethwaite, Cate Blanchett, Jason Behr, Gordon Pinsent, John Dunsworth
Director: Lasse Hallström
Producer: Rob Cowan, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, Leslie Holleran, Irwin Winkler
Distributor: Miramax

“The Shipping News” begins with an “ordinary Joe” working-class guy named Quoyle (Kevin Spacey). Quoyle leads a relatively uneventful life, but that all changes when a strange woman named Petal (Cate Blanchett) gets into his car.

Cate Blanchett in “The Shipping News” Quoyle, taken in by her seductive ways, ends up having a child with her. He intends to be faithful and support his new family but this woman has no intention of sharing her life with someone she considers boring. Quoyle winds up with the responsibility of raising a daughter—alone. With some coaxing from a distant aunt, he decides to search out his roots. Quoyle, his daughter and the aunt move into the family’s abandoned house in a small community in Newfoundland, Canada. Here Quoyle finds out that he didn’t come from an ordinary family—he is just the exception. Quoyle continues on throughout the move finding many skeletons in his families past and experiencing bizarre situations.

I found this movie a little dry, unlike the beautiful scenery filmed in its Newfoundland setting. The moral content was stagnant. The characters just seem to ride along with whatever bad thing comes along. The “F” word is used a couple of times and the Lord’s name taken in vain, unfortunately not just by the “bad guys”. There is a reference to a homosexual relationship with no mention of the immorality of such a situation. However, there are a few redeeming qualities about this film: 1) no nudity, 2) a few good Newfie jokes, 3) some slap-stick humor, and 4) a heart warming friendship between Quoyle and the leading lady Wavey (played by Julianne Moore). The writer apparently strived to be unpredictable and did achieve this goal. I have never seen another movie like it. “The Shipping News” left me with the feeling that I had just woken up from a weird dream. But it’s the kind of dream I wish I could forget.

Viewer Comments
Positive—I thought this was a great movie with great performances all around! I loved it. Very powerful film about one lonely man’s journey of self discovery. It had one graphic sexual scene, which contained no nudity, but had lots of movement. A lesbian relationship was mentioned, and there was a suggested rape scene. Other than that, this was a great film with lots of beautiful scenery. Kevin Spacey is a great actor, and should be in more movies. This was his best performance since “American Beauty”, which was also a great film.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Adam, age 19
Positive—I went to this movie somewhat apprehensively, thinking that I might have to sit through another two-hour art film that sacrifices good story-telling for an overdone artiness. Often these movies only leave one dazed and confused at the end. I was so wrong—and this is where I disagree with the reviewer. The story was logical, gripping and (as the reviewer rightly says) unpredictable. I haven’t read the book, but the film captured so much about the difficulties of this life and the struggles that every man faces, that I recommend it to everyone struggling to get back on their feet. Obviously Christ is our strength and every Christian needs to come to him in situations of need, but the practical advice of facing your past head-on and dealing with it, is commendable. Morally there are a few adult scenes (nothing extreme) and the obscenities are unnecessary. But there are few movies around of such high quality that leave you feeling invigorated without too much of a bad taste in the mouth!…
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Nils, age 24
Neutral—The novel “The Shipping News” is such a wondrous book, eccentric indeed but ultimately life-affirming and unforgettable. Its distinctive voice probably meant that no screen adaptation could capture it—certainly, this adaptation feels very ordinary and minor. The book’s theme was self-discovery, whereas this movie’s theme shifts to the director’s over-utilized theme of relationship and community. If handled in the right way, those themes are hugely important—indeed, I believe they are the key themes of the Bible—but Hallstrom has a way of making them mushy and sentimental. His movie “Chocolat,” for example, handled the same theme in the same rather saccharine, similar way, yet “Chocolat” was a more fully realized work and maintained a more intense tone throughout. Kevin Spacey is simply too bland in the central performance, and though the supporting cast attempts to bring some intensity to the picture, the roles are not well-developed. Only Cate Blanchett is truly memorable in a fun role…
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 2½]
—Denys St. John, age 35
Neutral—This is by far the oddest thing I have ever seen from Kevin Spacey. The movie had about five great scenes that were really touching, four that were extremely yet wonderfully disturbing, and a lot of others that seemed to have escaped from a made for TV movie. There was a fair amount of humor in the film, as well. I think my favorite aspect was how the Spacey character would create headlines about himself. I found that very clever and endearing. I also think that this film could be a great achievement for him, since he is SO low-key all throughout the movie, never straying into the regular “Sarcastic-Spacey” which I really love. My point is that he didn’t force the character to be something it wasn’t, just because he’s done it in other roles. I was quite proud as a Spacey fan. However, the last few films he’s done seem more like walking moral messages than movies with a theme. After “The Big Kahuna” came out, he delved into this kind of character…
My Ratings: [Average / 3]
—Jason Eaken, age 18