Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Safe Haven’ Review: Sparks’s Romance Perfect for Valentine’s Day

A small North Carolina town on the water, two beautiful people finding love after struggle, lots of letters and surprising twists make up the Nicholas Sparks story formula; and for his newest film adaption Safe Haven, it positively adds up.

Nicholas Sparks has written 17 novels, seven of them turned to films, with Safe Haven being the eighth film adaptation. The writer/producer’s inspired films have brought in over $650 million at the box-office.

Katie (Julianne Hough) arrives to small-town North Carolina, looking for fresh start after her painful past in Boston. She gets a job at the local restaurant and finds a quiet home to rent buried in the woods, hoping to stay away from the tight-knit community. Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widowed storeowner with two children, tries to befriend Katie, but she shrugs him off, not wanting a relationship with anyone.

It’s not until Katie’s new friend in town Jo (Cobie Smulders), urges her to make friends with Alex that she returns his affections. In true Nicholas Sparks-fashion, after a date on the beach, a romantic canoeing trip and lots of giggling and flirting, Katie and Alex fall for each other.

safe haven movie

What’s unique about Safe Haven over other Sparks films is that it’s suspenseful and surprisingly thrilling. We see in an earlier scene that Katie is running from the law, but we don’t know the full details. The screenplay, co-written by Sparks, allows the audience to revisit Katie’s old life in Boston through the eyes of a police detective Kevin (David Lyons), who is trying to figure her whereabouts.

Director Lasse Hallström (Dear John and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) certainly knows how to incorporate the beautiful scenery of North Carolina to benefit the story and the cinematography of particular scenes is just breathtaking.

The last five minutes of the film are not to be given away, but the twist probably played off better in the book than it does in the movie world. To the average viewer it will come off as cheesy, desperate and just plain strange. It’s so strange and unnecessary that it affects the film for the worse and leaves a poor taste in your mouth when you leave the theatre, even though the majority of the film is pleasantly romantic.

Safe Haven is thoroughly better than 2012’s The Lucky One, but doesn’t hold up to other Nicholas Sparks book-based films like The Notebook or A Walk to Remember. With a Valentine’s Day release and the dedicated fan base of the Sparks novels, Safe Haven is sure to roll in massive dough at the box-office this weekend.

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