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Safe Haven Review

8 min read
Safe Haven
Safe Haven

When Katie’s life goes south in a big way, she flees from Boston to a small North Carolina seaside town and discovers a new life.

What They Say:
An affirming and suspenseful story about a young woman’s struggle to love again, Safe Haven is based on the novel from Nicholas Sparks, the best-selling author behind the hit films The Notebook and Dear John. When a mysterious young woman arrives in a small North Carolina town, her reluctance to join the tight knit community raises questions about her past. Slowly, she begins putting down roots, and gains the courage to start a relationship with Alex, a widowed store owner with two young children. But dark secrets intrude on her new life with such terror that she is forced to rediscover the meaning of sacrifice and rely on the power of love in this deeply moving romantic thriller.

The Review:
One of the things I made a conscious effort to do year and years ago was to not become pigeonholed when it comes to what kind of movies I like. It may be a bit frustrating to some, since my interests range so wildly, but what it’s done is allow me to be able to watch almost anything and find new things to enjoy. Back when I was getting into the re-emerging LaserDisc market, there was just so many varied things coming out and it was all new to me so I just dove right into it. One of the genres that you don’t see a lot of men actively going out to see though is the romantic film genre. There are plenty that do, but the stereotype is still there that the only reason many men see them is because their significant others take them. I’m the opposite in that I’m dragging mine to see them. While I had seen many that I liked over the years, more romantic comedies, the one that pushed me further into the romantic drama types without the comedy was Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. That one has just stuck with me for many reasons and has had me checking out adaptations of his books to film ever since. So when Safe Haven hit, I wanted to be there opening weekend.

The film is one that tells a familiar enough story to be sure and does it with flashbacks happening throughout as there are three connected storylines taking place here. The initial thrust of the film is where we see a young woman named Katie (Julianne Hough) fleeing from her house after dropping a bloody knife and we see part of a body. She manages to flee Boston on a bus after some changes to her appearance as the cops are after her, as we see them looking at footage of her at the bus terminal and see the warrant put out on her for first degree murder. Over the course of the film, the events at the start are fleshed out a lot more and it presents some decent exposition of what kinds of bad relationships are out there and the difficulty so many people on both sides of the gender divide have in getting out of them.

While Katie is fleeing, she’s being pursued by one very intense copy named Kevin (David Lyons) who has an almost possessed look about him about getting this done. Similar to the flashbacks, it’s interspersed throughout the film until he finally does catch up with her and things come to a dramatic head in the final act. His reasons for all of it come through as time goes on but what we get is a man who is just so far gone in a controlled way, wound up so tightly, that as you start to understand the reasons why he’s like that, the more you do start to fear him. The initial part of him being the cop on the hunt for the murder makes him the type where you can understand him and why he’s doing it, as it’s his job even if he’s taking it a bit further, but then as you get to know the man himself and his situation and the real motivations for what he’s doing, you see that the reasons he’s so wound up are very, very different and that changes the color of everything.

Those two storylines provide a lot of the real drama of the film and it helps to provide some forward movement along the way, giving it a bit more tension and weight. For Katie, she does dominate the film as one would expect as the majority of her screen time is with her getting off the bus in the very small town of Southport, North Carolina, where she decides to take up residence for awhile and hide. She does her best initially to keep her distance, finding a small out of the way place to do some basic repairs on and takes up a waitressing job at a pier restaurant. She doesn’t quite make friends, but she befriends a woman named Jo (Cobie Smulders) who has a place near her that gives her the same kind of privacy. Katie also finds herself involved with a man named Alex (Josh Duhamel) who runs the small town convenience store that the bus often stops at, giving him a look at those who come and go along the route. He’s got two young kids of his own, having lost his wife to cancer several years ago.

Naturally, we get the standard romantic aspect here where he’s really interested in her, the first time for him since the loss of his wife, and she’s trying to keep her distance but there are more than enough subtle nudges along the way from others to allow her to open up a tiny bit of herself. She’s not really hiding a lot of things, just not going into the big problems of her life, her real name and other aspects. In a way, it’s kind of hard to understand how those questions could all be avoided for so long as the two get closer and closer and she becomes a part of the family in some very simple but effective and truthful ways. So many relationships are founded on talking about yourself, or at least answering lots of curious questions from the other person, that it does make things complicated. But here it’s kind of glossed over and you have to be okay with that since the focus is more on the feels and the nature of the relationship. We do see that they talk at length at times while out together and you just have to roll with the assumption on how she answers certain things so as to not arouse suspicion. Of course, there’s a pivotal moment along the way where he learns the truth and lashes out rather naturally considering his protective nature over his kids, but there’s also the deep feelings that the two have created with each other that has to be dealt with, which of course is when the other two storylines start to intersect more forcefully.

What allows the film to succeed or die is whether the actors can pull off the roles, if you can find them accessible enough to become invested in their romance and believe it. Having seen Beautiful Creatures the night before which was also romance focused in a different way, I felt that film had zero real chemistry and only succeeded at it because of the way teenage romances can be believed without any deeper connection due to lack of life experience. Here, we see something that you can feel very invested in as the pair circle each other in awkward ways until it has those teenage elements and you just have to grin, because it is backed up by experience, problems, loss and loves. I’ve only see Julianne Hough in a few things, largely Dancing with the Stars and Rock of Ages, but she’s got that beautiful girl next door look without being so overly produced and polished that it’s fake. She has a realness about her in her presence and her acting that makes her very fun and enjoyable to watch, something she brings to the role of Katie here very well. The same can be said of Josh Duhamel, who I’ve enjoyed in a lot of romantic comedy movies over the years, especially When in Rome. He has an earthiness here that fits with the locale without being a parody or caricature of it all, an honest man doing what he can like so many out there do, yet get overshadowed by the jerks and bad guys. The two of them together has that ring of a teenage romance to it, but it’s filled with more because of the time allowed to know them, how they’re coming together and the meaning of it all.

In Summary:
With movies like this, the way I feel that you can tell whether they succeed or fail is in how the audience reacts, which is why I try to see some of these in the theater. I can still vividly remember the heaving and sobs at the end of Titanic by the audience and other films over the years. With the Friday night screening I went to, filled largely with younger women and plenty of teenage girls, there was a lot of gasping at the right scenes, sighs at others and a good bit of sobbing style words to be said after the surprise ending twist is revealed. It hits the right notes, not as high as The Notebook for me, but definitely very well done. What movies like this do, if you really and truly give yourself over to being manipulated like you should, you experience something that may not come into your life often and find yourself engaged in a new way that could renew your view on life and your own relationships. Films like this are meant to be romantic and dramatic, without being overdramatic, and has you taking some of it with you out of the theater and into your life. Safe Haven has some really good things in it with a very good cast and solid direction from Lasse Hallström, who has done some fantastic things before like Chocolat, The Cider House Rules and Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. This is the kind of very, very good date movie that should hit both men and women the right way, in different ways.

Grade: B+