‘Safe Haven’ Ignites Familiar Romantic Sparks [Movie Review]
Safe Haven may be the perfect summation of all the Nicholas Sparks novels that have previously been adapted to film, with many of the now familiar elements present (including a North Carolina setting, canoe date, makeout session in the rain), but with a welcome dose of suspense and a dash of danger thrown into the romantic mix for a fun, twisty ride.
Read our official review below!
Julianne Hough (Rock of Ages, Footloose) carries the film as the damaged Katie, fighting her attraction to local widower Alex played by Josh Duhamel (Transformers). Hough is at her best being angry or sad, but when she finally smiles late in the film, it is as if Katie has at last let her emotional guard down.
Duhamel’s Alex is pretty much every girl’s dream of a southern gentlemen, a handsome handyman who likes to canoe and makeout in the rain and frolick in the surf, complete with two adorable kids played by Noah Lomax and Mimi Kirkland.
As the audience, we’re cheering for Katie and Alex to get together even before they make the first brief but important eye contact, and later as Duhamel fumbles to cheer up the hot new stranger in town, while Hough pretends to be uninterested.
The first third of the film is the best, with Katie’s flee from the big city cut dramatically over the opening credits. Those early flirtations also quickly become contagious thanks to the nice chemistry between the two leads, culminating with with Hough finally agreeing to a picnic at the beach with Duhamel and family.
David Lyons, who is so great as the villianous Gen. Monroe in NBC’s Revolution, is fittingly vile as the obsessed alcoholic cop hell-bent on finding Katie. As he gets closer, he gets more demented, becoming more physically threatening with each progressing scene, until he actually looks every bit the psycho on the outside that he has always kept so hidden just underneath until now.
While the middle part of the film relies on many of the cliches we’ve come to expect from this genre, the final third gets an added punch thanks mainly to Lyons’ now completely manic presence providing a genuine sense of danger.
Cobie Smulders (The Avengers) is mostly underused through much of the film as Katie’s seemingly nosey neighbor, though her character gets some much needed justification in the final act.
As widower Duhamel’s kids, Noah Lomax is a natural as the pre-teen who’s angry at the world, but it’s Raleigh actress Mimi Kirkland who all but steals the movie from everyone as the cupid character who knows (like we do) that these two broken characters are meant to help heal each other.
From a North Carolina standpoint, Safe Haven is nothing if not a love letter to (or postcard from?) Southport, where the story in the novel takes place and where the movie adaptation was filmed.
It’s especially nice to see North Carolina actually portrayed as North Carolina on film, as so many state productions pretend to be set elsewhere (Banshee) or are filmed elsewhere and pretend to be in NC (The Campaign).
It also doesn’t hurt that Southport looks beautiful throughout the film, shot by director Lasse Hallstrom to show off the lush colors, natural environments, and local culture, as if a postcard that might say, “Come to Southport, where you too can find your new life and love!”
The ending may be predictable, but there’s enough twists in the last reel that there’s no way you’ll see them all coming, unless of course you’ve already read the book, in which case you sit back and enjoy the scenic ride.
In the end, Safe Haven is just what the title promises, a comforting shelter from the hardened world for romantics in search of their happy ending and an answer to why they had to suffer so much along the way to get there.
Official Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by: Matt Artz
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