It was only a matter of time before someone made a film of E. Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Shipping News. I suppose it was a surprise for some that the director would be the Swede, Lasse Hallstrom. Still, Hallstrom has made fabulous films like My Life As A Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, The Cider House Rules as well as the slightly less fabulous Chocolat.

The Shipping News is a complex novel and this is evident in the difficulties Robert Nelson Jacobs and Hallstrom clearly had when trying to adapt it for the screen. As a consequence, the film is very thematic as though the director was trying to pack everything in. It is solidly made but somehow ultimately heavy-handed. I found it strangely compelling.

Kevin Spacey puts in his best performance in recent years as the protagonist but the character is oddly unengaging. Judi Dench is solid as Aunt Agnis Hamm, who, incidentally, is a lesbian. Julianne Moore seems out of place but not nearly as much as the characters played by Pete Postlethwaite and Rhys Ilfans. Cate Blanchett won Best Supporting Actress from the American National Board of Review for her role and is brilliant as Petal.

Filmed on location in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland amidst the heaviest snow in years, Oliver Stapleton’s cinematography is stunning. Although not the greatest of films, The Shipping News is entertaining and one of the better North American films to appear on our screens for awhile.

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