The Shipping News (15)

Review by Jack Foley

Having misfired last year with the sickly sweet Chocolat, director Lasse Hallstrom makes a return to the type of form approaching The Cider House Rules with his latest, The Shipping News.

Kevin Spacey stars as Quoyle, a self-loathing ink-setter who, traumatised by the death of his estranged wife (Cate Blanchett) in a car crash, is talked into returning to his home-town in Newfoundland for a journey of self discovery.

Inspired by his long-suffering daughter and his feisty aunt (Judi Dench), Quoyle rediscovers a zest for life, first becoming a journalist on the local paper and then forming a tentative relationship with another widower, Julianne Moore's Wavey.

Based on E Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Shipping News is the type of film which is likely to delight and frustrate in equal measure. For some, the pacing will be too deliberate and the characters too quirky, with Spacey, in particular, looking moribund in the early stages.

But for those willing to stick with it, the rewards are plenty, and Spacey's re-awakening is masterfully handled, earning him another Golden Globe nomination earlier this year.

And given that this is a Miramax production, and Oscar season is in full swing, it will come as little surprise to hear that the actor is surrounded by some pretty heavyweight support - aside from Dench, Moore and Blanchett, there are also weighty turns from Scott Glenn, Pete Postlethwaite, Gordon Pinset and even Rhys Ifans.

With so much talent at his disposal, it comes as a relief to be able to report that Hallstrom refrains from allowing proceedings to become overly sentimental, striking a near perfect balance between the tragedy and the humour which unfolds.

And while the subject matter may sound a little heavy-going, the sheer diversity of Hallstrom's characters and the presence he also lends his locations [much like he did with Cider House Rules], which play an integral part to the proceedings, makes this far more than just your average, boring character study.

Spacey fans will no doubt welcome the actor's return to form (after he was let down by his material in last year's Pay It Forward), while Moore fans will delight in the actress's subtle performance. This is the type of movie in which a first class director is served well by a first class cast. All are on form.