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The Shipping News Review

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After a family tragedy, Quoyle heads to Newfoundland with his aunt and daughter. Taking a job with the local paper and beginning a tentative romance with a single mother, he slowly discovers his self-esteem.

★★★★★

After the early promise of My Life As A Dog and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Lasse Hallstrom has settled down as Mirama's in-house director of middle-brow literary adaptations. The Cider House Rules and Chocolat garnered the requisite number of Oscar nominations, although some fans of the books reckoned that their impact had been softened in the process.

E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is the next one on Hallstrrom's library shelf. Although the character of Quoyle, as described in the book, cries out for Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Spacey is excellent in the role. In the early scenes he makes Quoyle a piece of putty in other people's hands: a man whose life is shaped by those around him and who utterly lacks the desire or ability to act for himself. As the film progresses, he reveals to us Quoyle's strengthening from the inside out. In his eyes and the tiniest movements of his face, he charts the character's journey towards self-belief. Needless to say, the rest of the cast are on equally strong form. Julianne Moore has an enigmatic allure as the solitary single mum, Judi Dench, as always, packs pages of emotional backstory into each individual line of dialogue, and Scott Glenn conveys the crusty eccentricity that would appear to be a genetic trait of all Newfoundlanders. It is only Pete Postlethwaite who fails to nail his character.

The ruggedly beautiful coastal landscapes are a gift for any director trying to give cinematic breadth to a novel, and Hallstr÷m does tap into the unique spirit of the place. However, the film's authenticity is unfortunately hindered by the fact that every single character requires their own dramatic revelation of a past tragedy; this, and Quoyle's recurrent drowning dream, underline the story's symbolism a bit too boldly.

Those who warm to classy Hollywood adaptations will find much to admire and enjoy, particularly in the performances. It's more of the same: well-acted, slightly worthy entertainment for a discerning audience.

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