Review: “The Shipping News”

When you think gripping cinema, Lasse Hallstrom isn’t a name that pops up. The man’s films have a signature style of being very slow-paced dramas about eccentric people in unusual places, they are made for art house audiences which is why his last two have been award nominees (thanks to major backing from the Weinsteins). “Chocolat” proved his best so far – a sweet small town tale with not much to it, but at least the locale and more upbeat story than usual gives it a little charm.

On the other hand and despite great talent like Maguire, Caine and Rudd, “The Cider House Rules” remains one of the most boring pieces of crap to come out in the last five years. Now he’s become the man in charge of films which Miramax push to get award nods as those little statuettes are very important to that studio. Does ‘Shipping’ have a chance? The sad answer is no. While it has more appeal than ‘Cider’, its still firmly in the “quite dull” category despite one or two nice moments.

It may have been a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but a lot is lost in the translation. The dialogue is flat, the characters eccentric but uninteresting (there’s next to no conflict), and the plot is very cobbled together. Whilst there’s a likeable non-goofy appearance by Rhys Ifans as a reporter, and an all too brief supporting role by Cate Blanchett, the rest of the cast gives us performances that seem phoned in with Spacey very miscast in a role that seems like Lester Burnham’s dweebish kid cousin.

Whilst ‘Cider’ was terribly scripted, at least its actors tried – stalwarts like Dench are very disappointing. Character developments happen in a few short spurts that hit so fast they don’t ring true, whilst the main character’s transformation remains grindingly slow. Every now and then comes a moment of quirky comedy that works but its just not enough to sustain an essentially lifeless film that instead of running on its own energy, tends to drain it from the audience. ‘Shipping’ feels more of a reject from the Hallmark channel than anything close to an Oscar calibre picture.