An affirming and suspenseful story about a young woman's struggle to find love again after she 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. (MovieWeb.com)
When book readers or "chick flick" watchers think of author Nicholas Sparks, it's hard not to immediately think of The Notebook. But for director Lasse Hallström, who had previously adapted Sparks' Dear John into a film in 2010 and presented audiences with the wonderful Salmon Fishing In The Yemen in 2011, Sparks' material expands far beyond the popular romantic drama. This year, Hallström brought Sparks' book Safe Haven to the big screen with a modest cast and an even more modest smalltown setting. The film was largely panned by the critics when it hit theaters earlier this year for Valentine's Day, but it's being given a second chance with a spring home entertainment release.
Personally, I'm a sappy enough guy to be able to appreciate a good love story (I'm a sucker for Jim and Pam's relationship in TV's The Office or Kate and Rick's in Castle, for example). I've really enjoyed movies like Dan In Real Life, Hitch, Serendipity and Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, to name a few as well. The thing is, I usually need an added ingredient with my romantic stories to make them endure for me. It either has to be a comedy as well, or contain actors I really enjoy watching. For Safe Haven, I enjoyed Josh Duhamel's character in the mediocre live action Transformers trilogy, so I knew going into this one that he'd be worth watching. Also, Safe Haven is not your typical romantic drama -- which is also part of its problem. Hallström tries to find a balance between a romance and a thriller here, and it doesn't work as well as he probably thought it would. Many action films will work in a love story angle of some kind quite well -- whether it's a movie like Knight and Day, The Recruit, or even Casino Royale. Others, however, seem to have a bit of an identity crisis along the way.
For Safe Haven, we have a young, attractive blonde, named Katie, who's on the run for reasons unknown to the audience, and it takes her to a small North Carolina town called Southport. Meanwhile, we're given these ominous scenes of a detective who's trying to track Katie down. In truth, from the film's start, there's no reason for this detective to be painted in such a negative light as he's trying to find her. For all we know, Katie committed a terrible crime and she's just trying to hide from her mistakes. So, to make this detective's scenes seem so dark just seems overly dramtic for no apparent reason. On top of that, when Katie inevitably finds herself settling in to Southport, the dark and broody scenes that cut back to the detective just feel wholly out of place. However, when the reality of Katie's fugitive behavior comes to light, it finally makes sense, but you can't help but wonder if there had been a better way to portray it all (or, at least, the drastic tone shifts could have been a little less jarring). Perhaps the intense music during these scenes didn't help, or the sinister portrayal of the role from David Lyons, but in the end, it feels like you're watching a couple of different movies at once. Furthermore, another problem comes at the film's end; if the revelation of Katie's troubles wasn't quite enough of a surprise for you, there's a supernatural twist in the film's closing moments that not only doesn't make any sense, but it feels like an unnecessary add-on that hurts the story more than helps it.
Otherwise, Safe Haven really isn't a bad film. This can be attributed to a pretty good cast in the center of it all. Duhamel is great as a southern widower named Alex, with two kids and a convenience store he runs in Southport. His two children, Lexie and Josh, are actually cute little cast additions. It's tough to get good, solid child actors in movies it seems, and these little talents were enjoyable to watch. Julianne Hough is decent as the female lead, although I have to wonder if a stronger lead for Duhamel would have helped the film a bit. Still, I can understand Alex's attraction to her, and it's not hard to sympathize with her troubles in the movie. The story really isn't all that unqiue, but Hallström and Sparks keep it interesting enough to make it an entertaining flick. Yet, it probably could have benefited from a few minutes being shaved off of its near 2-hour running time (the beginning drags a bit).
The content for Safe Haven is firmly under the PG-13 rating. There is one sex scene, although brief, that shows the two in bed and kissing passionately (and we see her bare back twice). As what is typical for a movie like this, the couple isn't married either when they sleep together, which obviously sends is common for Hollywood romance tales (SPOILER: in fact, we learn that one of them still is married at the time that they sleep together). There's also some intense violence that deals with the topic of spousal abuse and alcoholism. It happens in a couple of scenes, and they're pretty intense. We also see some blood on a person's hands (and the floor and nearby walls that they touch) in a flashback, and the act of a person being stabbed with a kitchen knife. A person is also shot in the head during a struggle with a gun, but it's not graphic. Language isn't as bad as one might expect for a PG-13 film like this, but there are a handful of "S" words and a couple uses of blasphemy as exclamations.
Overall, Safe Haven isn't the worst romantic drama you could see, but it probably could have been a stronger film with some adjustments in tone, at the very least. It'll probably bore the ladies' fellas a lot less than most romance films, but there is plenty of sentiment and mush included to keep the women viewers happy and swooning.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/15/13)
Alternate Ending (3:37) - If you didn't like the ending of the movie, don't get too excited about this one. The ending is exactly the same as the final version, with one slight tweak. As we hear the voice of a particular character narrating the final moments, there are two brief additional shots of that character speaking directly to the audience. It's kind of awkward, so it was a good move to take them out. This definitely didn't need to be included on the disc, though.
Deleted/Extended Scenes (5:19) - There 5 deleted or extended scenes included here. The first just shows Katie running in the beginning of the movie. The second shows detective Tierney in his office making an arrest (1 "h*ll). The third is an extended version of Alex coming in to tuck Lexie in at night. The fourth is a longer scene after the date between Alex and Kate where they meet in the street and talk about wanting to go out again. Here, she gives him a book to read that she recommended and we then see a shot of him falling asleep while reading it. Lastly, we see a part of the pivotal flashback where we see a character isn't dead but has survived (which we already knew, it just shows it in the flashback).
Igniting the Romance in Safe Haven (9:15) - This is the film's lone making-of featurette. It's pretty entertaining, and we learn here that the director encouraged a lot of scene improvisations during filming. We also get to see some of those alternate takes here as well. The film was shot entirely on location in Southport, NC, something that is rare for a movie like this.
Josh Duhamel's Lesson in Crabbing (3:05) - While filming the movie, Josh spent hours off camera trying his hand at crabbing. We see him putting bait in a crab cage and lowering it into the water about a dozen times. Finally, he catches one and celebrates, and then we see that one of the crew or Southport natives had slipped a real crab into Josh's crab trap to help him not feel so defeated.
Set Tour (2:18) - The super brief "set tour" just has author Nicholas Sparks showing us some of the locations of the movie in Southport.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/15/13)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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