DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of The Shipping News, Northfork


Title: The Shipping News

Release Date:  2001

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 120 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  R

Distributor and Production Company: Miramax

Director; Writer: Lasse Hallstrom, based on novel by Anne Proulx


Cast:   Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench

Technical:  Moviecam 2.3 to 1  Digital

Relevance to doaskdotell site: writing

Review:  Well, art movies are getting bigger these days, and this film is kind of an art-house answer to The Perfect Storm.  With complex and subtle characters, more precisely developed than in the earlier Hollywood blockbuster. Kevin Spacey, who had to gain twenty pounds to act in this film, plays and oafish “walrus” (as he calls himself on Regis) anti-hero with hairy arms and a soft mid-section. After his wife dies, he moves to  Newfoundland  fishing village and takes a job with the local paper, “The Shipping News.” Well, he was an inksetter, not a writer, but they expect him to play star reporter. He has to learn to write – and his earliest efforts are filled with irrelevant details.  Remember your freshman English—you had to learn the difference between details that support your topic sentence and details that don’t matter,  Well, he masters that and graduates to having his own PC (no, Stephen, not a Dell—only an IBM is good enough).

Gradually he delves into the little intrigues and quirky stories about the town’s troubled past.


The film is technically stunning with its blue-green-gray panoramas of coastal Newfoundland. Everything looks real.  It starts out with late winter, covered in deep snow. The night after Spacey moves into the antique coastal house, there is an all night East Coast rain on the snow, leaking into the house, and the next morning most of the snow is gone.  I don’t recall this effect being shown before.  Later there is a flashback of the house being moved manually, by ropes, across an ice field, with an image that reminds one of Oscar and Lucinda (1997).  And there are other weird images: cremated remains being thrown into the potty, a decapitated head in the water, a man vomiting water over his mourners as he rises from the dead. The very first scene is disturbing enough, as a young boy is forced to learn to dogpaddle by his rather redneck and usually aimless father. And there is a catastrophic storm, perhaps a perfect storm, maybe even the same storm. .


Northfork (2003, Paramount Classics/Departure, dir. Michael Polish, PG-13, 103 min) is a great eclectic fantasy dealing with issues. The historical event is the almost forced evacuation of a small Montana Great Plains town called Northfork to make way for a hydroelectric power project dam in 1955. The film is layered as an eight year old biy Irwin (Duel Farnes) lies near death in a near empty orphanage and as Father Harlan (Nick Nolte) helps him imagine a characters and playthings to prepare for his own letting go. James Woods plays O’Brien. The widescreen photography of the plains is spectacular with its muted twilight colors, as are the knickknacks inside the orphanage. The film merges dream with reality and history.

Related reviews: The Perfect Storm    The Astronaut Farmer


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