- Director:Lasse Hallström
- Cast:Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders
- Release Date:February 14, 2013
- Running time:118 minutes
- Film Worth:$11.50
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It’s typical Nicholas Sparks schmaltz, but it’s one of the better adaptations in a category of films that seem to play by their own rules.
Despite the fact that a couple of cast members seem at pains to point out that Safe Haven is in fact a different type of Nicholas Sparks story, they’re not fooling anyone. Admittedly, the author’s seventh big screen outing may come with a slightly sharpened edge, but it unmistakably plays to the formula of a classic Sparks story. A young man and woman (always white) fall in love against the backdrop of a sleepy town only to have their romance potentially thwarted by bad ex-lovers, bad weather and other life and death situations. In fact, these characteristics, rules, and even the redemptive philosophy behind Sparks’ screen adaptations, have become so consistent and drum-tight that one might consider these movies a genre unto themselves. And viewed through that lens, this is one of the “genre’s” better efforts.
Opening with a surprising jolt, we follow a terrified Katie (Footlose and Rock Of Ages’ Julianne Hough) run to board a departing coach while an angered cop (Australia’s David Lyons does his best with a one-note role) attempts to stop her. What Katie’s attempting to outrun isn’t initially clear, but it’s not exactly hard to work out either. Katie departs the coach when it reaches a quaint little tourist spot in North Carolina, and this is where she meets Alex (a likeable Josh Duhamel), a widowed father of two youngsters (scene-stealers Mimi Kirkland and Noah Lomax), who runs the general store at the wharf. While Katie is at first bristly towards Alex’s gestures as a handyman and then his offer of a bicycle, her self-defense mechanisms are gradually worn down, and she falls for his salt-of-the-earth charms hard and fast. But Katie’s past – in the form of the aforementioned police officer who seems obsessed with her whereabouts – soon catches up with her.
While all the emotionally manipulative factors are at play here, how does this end up one of Sparks’ better screen adaptations? It may be because Safe Haven – unlike last year’s preposterously premised The Lucky One – actually has some real stakes. And secondly, the film benefits from the man at its helm, Lasse Hallstrom (the What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen director who also helmed Dear John, one of the better Sparks adaptations, though that’s hardly great praise). While all the pieces of this puzzle are as generic as they come – from the cut-out characters to the cut-out situations these characters find themselves in – Hallstrom somehow manages to weave it all together into a compelling whole. The romance between Katie and Alex is predictable but advances tentatively and tenderly; and the film’s final third rattles with suspense towards a typically melodramatic climax, which the characters arise from healed, whole and forward-looking. It’s not remotely believable. But Mr. Sparks has always been more concerned with troubled situations than troubled characters; the former is easier to write your way out of and the latter may just ruin the formula.