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Review: Latest Hallström film no newfie joke

THERE ARE few real storytellers left in Hollywood, but Swedish director Lasse Hallström is definitely one of them.
Hallström's two previous projects were adaptations of literary works for the big screen: John Irving's novel The Cider House Rules (Zásady muštárne) and Chocolat (Čokoláda) by Joanne Harris, also a major best-seller.
His new movie The Shipping News (Pobrežné správy) is no departure from the tradition. Based on the Pulitzer-prize winning novel of the same title by E. Annie Proulx, it tells the story of the unhappy Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) who after the death of his wife (Cate Blanchett) leaves his old life behind and moves to a small fishing town in Newfoundland where his family originally came from.


KEVIN Spacey and Judi Dench as Quoyle and aunt.
photo: SPI International

The Shipping News

Running time: 120 min
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Rating: 7 out of 10

THERE ARE few real storytellers left in Hollywood, but Swedish director Lasse Hallström is definitely one of them.

Hallström's two previous projects were adaptations of literary works for the big screen: John Irving's novel The Cider House Rules (Zásady muštárne) and Chocolat (Čokoláda) by Joanne Harris, also a major best-seller.

His new movie The Shipping News (Pobrežné správy) is no departure from the tradition. Based on the Pulitzer-prize winning novel of the same title by E. Annie Proulx, it tells the story of the unhappy Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) who after the death of his wife (Cate Blanchett) leaves his old life behind and moves to a small fishing town in Newfoundland where his family originally came from.

Here, amid the down-to-earth practicality of Canada's 'newfies', Quoyle rebuilds his life from scratch while also renewing his ancestral home. After having spent years as a print setter at a dud paper in the US, Quoyle discovers in Killick Claw that he actually has a talent for journalism. He also learns to live with the spirits of his own past and that of his family. Judi Dench plays the mysterious aunt who appears out of nowhere and forces Quoyle to confront his fears and unresolved childhood traumas.

The main star of the film besides Spacey is Julianne Moore, whose character Wavey with her radiant beauty becomes the object of Quoyle's desire. Against the background of Newfoundland's breathtaking scenery, Hallström tells extraordinary stories of ordinary people - about the love of a mother for her disabled son, the curse that besets a family, and how people overcome the loss of those they love.

The Shipping News is certainly no action movie, and to enjoy its qualities you have to approach it in a slow, calm frame of mind, almost getting into the mode of Newfoundland's hard-bitten inhabitants. Hallström's characters are portrayed in a very authentic way, and if you didn't grow up in a small town, this film will give you a good idea of what it must be like when everyone knows each other's secrets, and the whole town meets every night at the only local pub.


CATE Blanchett as the wife.
photo: SPI International

If you read the book, however, you may be disappointed by the film, as there are many variations from the text and spirit of Proulx's novel. Spacey, for example, is no Quoyle, whom Proulx describes as massively fat and red-haired, with features like "bunched fingers" and a "jutting shelf of a chin" that he constantly hides with his hand. Nor is Wavey the real Wavey, Moore's beauty being a shade too generous for the stick-like 'Tall, Quiet Woman' that in the book eventually falls for Quoyle.

In the film Quoyle has only one daughter rather than two (curiously, the role of the rather strange six-year-old Bunny was played by triplets who shared the acting duties). Many of the fascinating details about the art of building boats, tying knots and sailing are left out.

But that's life, or rather film, where a good director can often (as in The Shipping News) use camera work to substitute for the breathless elegance of a novel's prose. It's definitely worth giving this movie a chance, because it does have some magic, and some of its scenes are astonishing. Don't let the Slovak title of the film mislead you either, for despite its similarity to Pobrežná hliadka (the Slovak name for the Baywatch TV serial), any resemblance ends with the name.

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