It doesn't start out promising. As in "American Beauty," we hear Kevin Spacey's exhausted voice-over telling us how he was physically mishandled by his father and how empty his life is now. A brief marriage to a half-mad Kate Blanchett results in a child, Bunny, but it doesn't seem to help Spacey. At his father's funeral he runs into an aunt from a Canadian maritime province and, having no particular reason for existence in upstate New York, travels home with her.
That's when the story proper begins to get a bit more lively. This is a barren windswept place, tucked so far up into the northern latitudes that even at noon objects leave long shadows on the salt grass. People fish in this small village. They eat "seal flipper pies" made of the more cartilaginous parts of the fin. People speak with a kind of mid-Atlantic accent and they have queer names like Card and Buggitt and Quoyle. The town seems so dull that one day the tide may go out and never come back.
But it's livelier than it sounds underneath those lowering skies. Spacey gets a job at the local newspaper, The Gammy Bird or something like that. Well, okay, it's not the New York Times, but even the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse won a Pulitzer a few years ago. His assignment: write the shipping news, detailing which ships enter and leave port, and throw in any relevant bits of information. Also cover the regular car wrecks. Spacey runs into the couple who have just brought a yacht into harbor, a yacht that was built for Adolph Hitler, and does a story on it, much to the pleasure of the editor (Scott Glenn) who spends most of his time fishing. His career as journalist progresses, punctuated by the headlines he gradually learns to compose. An older colleague takes him to the shore, tells him to look at the horizon, and describe what he sees. "There are some mountains -- and a lot of dark clouds," ventures Spacey. "Nope: IMMINENT STORM THREATENS VILLAGE," says his mentor. "But what if it doesn't come?" Spacey asks. Answer: "DANGEROUS STORM SPARES VILLAGE."
There's a lot of humor in this film actually but none of it is played for laughs. It's the kind of humor that grows out of everyday encounters, unremarked upon but palpably there. Much of it is provided by the headlines. After some social coup, Spacey smiles with satisfaction and muses, "CLUMSY MAN STUNS CROWD." (It's a little like the "Windbag" chapter in "Ulysses.")
Spacey also runs into Julianne Moore, than whom there is no less glamorous or more talented actress on screen these days, who has a retarded child and a punk history of her own. The romance moves slowly and tentatively along as it might in life outside of the movies. The couple do not throw themselves into bed on their first night together and dissolve in an ecstasy of sighs and moans.
But it's basically the story of Spacey's self discovery. Nothing as simple as, "EMPTY MAN GOES HOME AND FINDS HIS ROOTS." Not a bit of it. His family has a lunatic and criminal history on these islands and the secrets are uncovered bit by bit, a patchwork of incest, rape, torture, piracy, and murder, all symbolized by a dreary haunted-looking old house anchored to the stone shore by steel cables and turnbuckles to hold it against the storms.
Well, a storm finally does lash the village. I was in such a storm, a hurricane in fact, in a small seaside village outside of Pago Pago in American Samoa. After a day and a night of savagery the dawn came and I was amazed after I'd crawled out from what was left of the place into the crisp new air -- trees down, bushes blasted away, huts shredded, and a majestic vista now that so many obstructions had been flattened. Something like that happens here. The final headline: "STORM DESTROYS HOUSE. LEAVES EXCELLENT VIEW."
I can't NOT mention Kevin Spacey's performance. He's so wispy and insensate at the beginning that he barely exists. He's heavier than usual here and walks in a fitting fashion. Now this is much tougher than what Russell Crowe did with his shambling in "A Beautiful Mind," or Dustin Hoffman's tics in "Rain Man," because Spacey has not to EMBODY a mental illness but to suggest a spiritual one. His performance is as close to perfection as it's possible to imagine, although by definition it must lack bravura. Moore is first rate, as usual, her flattish face almost luminous with sensibility, and the smaller parts are just fine. So is the direction. Spacey has, by my count, three nightmares about his childhood and not once does he wake up and thrust his face into the camera and scream. The score is understated during the film but rackets along behind the credits percussively in something like 6/8 time.
See this if you can, really, for an acting lesson if for no other reason, as long as you don't expect to find a slasher crawling through a fish factory with a chef's knife.
The Shipping News
The Shipping News
An inksetter in New York, Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) returns to his family's longtime home, a small fishing town in Newfoundland, with his young daughter, Bunny (Alyssa, Kaitlyn, and Lauren Gainer), after a traumatizing experience with her mother, Petal (Cate Blanchett), who sold her to an illegal adoption agency. Though Quoyle has had little success thus far in life, his shipping news column in the newspaper "The Gammy Bird" finds an audience, and his experiences in the town change his life. Then he meets the widow Wavey Prowse (Julianne Moore).
October 11, 2022 at 10:22 AM