As opposed to being as vague as possible while reviewing this, I’ve decided to spoil everything in the movie. My reasoning is simple: the movie’s twists are what make the film entertaining, even if they’re not actually good. My short review: don’t see it unless you like Nicholas Sparks movies. Actual spoilers are after the jump though.
Title: Safe Haven
Genre(s): Drama, Mystery, Romance
Director(s): Lasse Hallström
Release Year: 2013
Rotten Tomatoes: 12%
If Nicholas Sparks is best known for anything, it’s consistently churning out below-average romantic dramas that will get all the women to swoon over their attractive star, and sob over every piece of contrived sadness. Never does Sparks go out of his comfort zone, dealing almost exclusively with issues of memory loss, cancer, or both. But Safe Haven is ironically enough, the first film that feels genuinely edgy, though it’s that same kind of contrived edginess intended to show that he has some other side to him. This side shares some elements of his previous films, such as the incorporation of cancer, but also delves into a severe case of alcoholism and abuses of power. With some good casting, besides the horrendous Julianne Hough, Lasse Hallström has crafted his second, and most promising, adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel yet.
The unfortunate thing about something that’s promising is it feels all the more disappointing when it fails like all the rest. Safe Haven follows Katie (Hough), as she tries to escape from her past and salvage her life in the town of Southport. In this small beach community, she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), who owns the general store in the town and is a recent widower. The two naturally become entangled in a relationship that will quickly be tested once Katie’s past comes back to haunt her, complete with an alcoholic, abusive cop (David Lyons) who uses his powers to try and find Katie and bring her back home to Boston. Now comes twist number one: that alcoholic cop is Katie’s husband who she ran away from because he beat her while being profusely drunk. And with the power of being a cop, he labels her as a murder suspect and loses his job for a misuse of his authority. Now without a job, he drives to Southport in order to find Katie and drag her back into her past life.
That storyline is essentially what makes Safe Haven promising. The opening scene when she’s fleeing Boston, is set up like a thriller, and sets the tone of the film in a completely different way than the rest of the movie goes. And it isn’t a Nicholas Sparks movie without a little edge to it, but how dark this movie goes in comparison to something like The Notebook or Dear John, is shocking. Well, it’s shocking for a Sparks film, and comes complete with a death as Katie’s husband is shot during a wrestling match with Fourth of July fireworks as the backdrop. So the moral here is don’t become an alcoholic. Nope, too superficial. The meaning behind Safe Haven is that the only way you can escape your demons is to confront them, something that may have saved the life of our alcoholic co-star.
But who can blame a guy for getting drunk when Julianne Hough is your wife? Sure, she’s nice to look at, but her acting abilities are about as impaired as an alcoholic’s ability to keep from shooting himself. Meanwhile, David Lyons delivers a great performance as the drunk, abusive husband, and really sells it. Unfortunately, his role is so one-dimensional that if he didn’t nail it I’d have a much wider array of comments to make. However, the one guy who stands out is Josh Duhamel, who admittedly I have seen in very few things before this. When it comes to Safe Haven, though, he shows that he’s probably the most capable actor in the cast, not being just a pretty face, but also a charming lead who essentially carries the entire film on his acting alone. Alex is a father of two children, recently widowed, and trying to foster a new relationship with Katie, and because of that, a range is necessary, which Duhamel is able to provide with no problem.
And Duhamel is not the only redeeming thing in Safe Haven, as some of the cinematography is decent, especially during the flashbacks to Katie’s time with her husband. Even a backdrop of fireworks serves as a nice reminder that the movie isn’t complete garbage, even when it’s riddled with plot holes at every turn. Katie runs away from home with a new identity and is able to just buy a house, where most real estate agents require some kind of credit check, or at least money, something that Katie seems to have a lot of seeing that she can just buy a house whenever she wants. Make that jump, and then you get to Alex’s whiny son who misses his mom and hates Katie, up until some moment off-screen I’m assuming, when he decides he’s okay with Alex dating Katie. Furthermore, the fact that a missing persons report is posted in a small town with Katie’s photo and the only person who recognizes the photo is Alex, not the cop that drives the two of them home after a day of canoeing, is also ludicrous. Which leads to the question of how did Alex and Katie get the canoe to the lake. Clearly it wasn’t with a vehicle because if it was they wouldn’t need a ride home from the police when it starts raining uncontrollably. Alas, my questions will likely never be answered, but that’s not the important thing.
What is important however, is that you cry by the end of Safe Haven. And boy do they try to give you the happiest, most endearing ending in the history of Sparks movies. Remember that Alex is recently widowed? Well, when Katie movies into her new house, she meets Jo (Cobie Smulders), who lives next door and helps make Katie feel at home. She’s the one who pushes Katie into the direction of Alex, and also warns her (through a dream) when Katie’s husband is in Southport. As a joke, I thought before the big plot twist, that it would be interesting if Jo was actually a figment of Katie’s imagination, since she never really interacts with anyone but Katie and acts as a person trapped in the past. Sure enough, I was close. Jo is revealed to be Alex’s recently deceased wife, who I presume has lingered on as a ghost with the sole purpose of getting him laid. She’s even gone so far as to write a letter to whoever Alex falls in love with (along with letters that their children can’t read until specific events in their lives like a wedding or graduation). So the movie ends with Katie reading Jo’s letter, because Alex has fallen in love with the girl who stabs her husband after they buy her a nice necklace. Not going to ask how Katie was able to tell what Alex’s dead wife looked like when she had never seen a photo before meeting her.
In terms of Nicholas Sparks movies, it’s probably the one that requires the most leaps of logic, but at the same time, it is also one of his most promising efforts to date. I think I still prefer Dear John, due to Richard Jenkins’s performance in it, but Safe Haven isn’t the worst Sparks movie you could watch. It appeals to my sensibilities because it is so ridiculous that no one can watch it on a purely critical level. It has a dark tone that underlies it all, but when you walk out of the movie, you’ll realize you’ve just wasted 2 hours of your life seeing another story about how you need to face your demons in order to relinquish the past. Hopefully more Nicholas Sparks films have this edgy side to them though, because I am definitely tired of having Alzheimer’s and cancer as important elements of a sappy romance.
Overall: Not Recommended