“Southport has been a popular filming location for television and movies, including film adaptations of the works of novelist Nicholas Sparks. The town can be seen in the television series Dawson’s Creek, Under the Dome, Revenge, and Matlock, and in numerous movies, including I Know What You Did Last Summer, Summer Catch, Domestic Disturbance, Crimes of the Heart, Nights in Rodanthe, A Walk to Remember and Safe Haven.”
Ah, but Lasse Hallström‘s film, released in 2013, not only uses the charm of Southport and burgeoning romance, this being a town where the sun shines almost always (apart from when demanded by the script), where everyone is beautiful and smiley, and where nothing goes wrong except when strangers hit town (unless it’s role reversal and the strangers are the good guys.)
But a word first on the director. Never would you describe a Hallström film as hard-boiled tough cookie stuff. Doubtless you’ve seen My Life As A Dog and Chocolat, both of which were beautifully crafted and charming. No doubt about it: what he does, Lasse does very well, though soft-hearted romances are not typically where Millward wallows. It’s the faux schmaltz and emoting that sticks in my craw, of which there is at least a side portion in Safe Haven, announced through soft strings in the musical score.
SH also has the underpinnings of a thriller, albeit in the director’s typically mellowed out misty-eyed style. With the benefit of hindsight it’s not a thriller at all, but simply masquerades as one to eke out the plot to regulation time, since even romances need a touch of back story and conflict.
The MacGuffin here is the reality of the past, notably the history of heroine Katie Feldman/Erin Tierney (Julianne Hough) with drunken cop husband Kevin (David Lyons) and the alleged murder conviction against her back in Boston, of which we only get teasing glimpses until the damp squib of a denouement. She is a runaway and very hazy about her background, when you might argue her life might have been simpler by telling the truth, but there you go – people are complicated, not that you would necessarily know it on this telling it.
Meanwhile “Katie” (assumed name) slowly forms an awkward alliance and later romance with Josh Duhamel‘s Alex, who is, as male characters often are in this sort of movie, a widowed father of two cute-as-pie children who come to worship the new girl in dad’s life after initial reluctance. Sound familiar?
You know already that the ending will be everyone walking off into the sunset folded in one another’s arms, so the real climax comes as Alex’s shop and home are burned down by wicked Kevin, requiring Alex to rescue cute-as-mustard Lexie while Katie/Erin fights with Kevin and gun. That’s as exciting as it gets.
I ran into a few difficulties with the narrative and motivation of the characters at this point. I couldn’t understand why Kevin would not set light to the house while Katie was in it, assuming his motive being to kill her to make sure nobody else can have her if he can’t – just boyish bad sportsmanship? Initially he wants her back, but sure as hell doesn’t behave in any way likely to win her heart. Does Kevin really know what he wants? Since he ends up dead (inevitably), we may never know – but I bet Nicholas Sparks‘s book of the same name, from which the film is adapted, is more coherent.
Sorry, way too mawkish and designed solely to tug at your heart strings with minimal dramatic sophistication and lack of believable characters. Better luck next time, Lasse.