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Featured Blu-ray: The Shipping News

March 26th, 2013

The Shipping News - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

The Shipping News came out in 2001, but despite its hefty budget and its strong cast, the film didn't open wide and struggled to expand significantly. Granted, opening in "select theaters" is arguably the hardest release strategy to pull off, so its struggles are not surprising. If it had opened wide, would it have thrived? Or would it have struggled no matter what?

The Movie

The film stars Kevin Spacey as Quoyle, whose childhood was not a happy one and whose adult life is turning out to be only marginally better. He has learned to be mostly invisible to those around him, because keeping a low profile keeps him out of trouble. This changes when he sees Petal Bear in a fight with her boyfriend while he's waiting at a gas station. She sees him and just gets in his car and tells him to drive. Shortly after that, they have sex and Quoyle says he loves her. It should come as no surprise that this is a relationship that doesn't last. Even though the pair have a child together, Bunny, Petal isn't the type of person to settle down.

After years of this, Quoyle gets some bad news when his father calls and tells him that he and his mother are putting their affairs in order, because their illnesses are terminal. By the time he gets the message, they are dead and cremated. When Petal learns there's no inheritance, she takes off, taking Bunny with her. While Quoyle is dealing with this, his aunt, Agnes, shows up on her way to Newfoundland. (That's where their family is originally from.) She seems nice, but when the cops return Quoyle's calls and he is distracted, she steals the ashes. The cops have good news and bad news. The good news is they found Bunny. The bad news is Petal had sold her to an underground adoption agency for $6,000, before her boyfriend and she drove off a bridge and died on impact. Agnes decides to stay for a little while till Quoyle and Bunny get over this loss, but in the end, Quoyle decides to move with Agnes to Newfoundland.

There's an old home on Quoyle Point, but it was abandoned by their family nearly 50 years ago, so it is in a lot of disrepair. Quoyle tries to get a job at the local paper, but it seems everyone there knows the name Quoyle. First its Tert, who is conducting the interview because the boss, Jack, has called in sick with bronchitis. When the boss calls to make sure Tert isn't using his desk (he is) Tert tells him a Quoyle is looking for a job. Jack gets Quoyle to come to the dock immediately and offers him a job as a reporter. He'll cover the shipping news, what ships are coming into and leaving the harbor each day, as well as weekly car crashes. Quoyle tries to explain he is just an inksetter, but Jack says he has a feeling about him and that he should be a reporter.

The first day on the job, Quoyle meets the rest of the staff, including Nutbeem, who handles international news, and Billy Pretty, who handles home news. Quoyle doesn't even have time to settle into his job when he gets his first car crash. It hits a little too close to home (a man and a women hit a deer before crashing into the water). Tert also rejects his first draft for being too verbose, but Billy helps Quoyle with some tips at how to become a better journalist, how to find the heart of the story.

Meanwhile, Quoyle and his family are trying to adapt to their new home. Agnes unretires to bring in some more income. Bunny seems to have a connection to the house, but is having trouble adjusting to life in a small town. Quoyle also tries to adjust to his new life by getting to know Wavey, who is also a single parent. Her son, Herry, suffers from a learning disability after a troubled birth. He tries to talk to her, but ends up accidentally insulting her. She accidentally returns the favor the next time they meet. After that initial awkwardness, they do become friends, as do Bunny and Herry. Quoyle even gets some positive feedback on his first major story and suddenly he has more confidence than he's ever had before. Confidence enough to stand up to Tert. Maybe confidence to try and turn his friendship with Wavey into something more.

The Shipping News is a slow moving film, even fans of the movie have to admit that. Additionally, it takes a while for the protagonist, Quoyle, to really act for himself. For much of the movie, he does little but react to what is thrown his way. Granted, the whole point of the movie is to watch an emotionally damaged man finally gain confidence in himself, but with the film's slow pace, by the time this happens, some people might have given up on the movie. Those who stick it out will be rewarded with excellent acting and a story that gets more engaging as it continues.

On a side note, a lot of critics argued that Kevin Spacey was miscast in this movie. He is really good at playing arrogant bastards, but I think he did a great job as a beaten down man gaining his confidence.

The Extras

This is a bargain Blu-ray, so it should come as no surprise that there is only one featurette on the disc. However, it's a meaty 23-minute long making of / behind the scenes featurette. This is better than expected. On the other hand, the technical presentation does look and sound a little on the bargain side. The details are a little soft, the colors a little muted, etc. Granted, it looks better than it does on DVD, but it is no better than "Meh" compared to the average Blu-ray. The audio is... the audio is 2.0, so clear dialogue is all you are going to get here. Fortunately, it is a bargain Blu-ray and on, it costs just $6.

The Verdict

The Shipping News is worth checking out and at just $6, the Blu-ray is worth owning.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Shipping News, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Pete Postlethwaite, Kevin Spacey, Scott Glenn, Rhys Ifans, Julianne Moore, Gordon Pinsent