Review: Safe Haven


Safe Haven posterThis Valentine's weekend, if moviegoing is you and your significant other's thing, you'll be presented with two choices: the very dude-centric shoot-em-up fifth movie in the Die Hard franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard, or a movie based on yet another Nicholas Sparks novel, Safe Haven. Guys may try very hard to convince their ladies of the positive and word-saving attributes of John McClane, but let's face it, you'd rather watch the Die Hard movie with your boys anyway. So there you'll inevitably sit, in a theater watching a movie based on a novel written by the same author who gave us The Notebook. But guess what? Safe Haven is actually a pretty good film, with two incredibly charming leads.

Safe Haven doesn't start out like most Nicholas Sparks adaptations. With music that sounds like it's from some gritty crime drama, the movie opens on a frightened young woman (Julianne Hough) soaked with blood, running away from a house in the rain. Seeking shelter with a neighbor, we then see her at a bus station being chased frantically by a detective (David Lyons).

For a second, you might not believe you're watching a film based on a Sparks novel. Safely on a bus, it's clear the woman is looking for a new start or a way to erase the memories of whatever she was running away from. It isn't until she arrives at a seaside North Carolina town that she decides to settle down with a job, a new name -- Katie -- and a secluded home. While there she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower with two adorable children, and the sparks fly ... but she's never really comfortable, because she's still afraid whatever she escaped might come looking for her.

Playing charming and charismatic isn't all that hard for Duhamel. Whats new is the emotional vulnerability his character is living with, so he comes off as a guy you're rooting for. Hough's character has a similar kind of vulnerability, and together they're a couple that is remarkably different from other couples in Sparks' movies and films. In The Notebook, and Dear John particularly, the female leads at times made decisions that didn't make them characters to root for. In Safe Haven, both romantic leads are so cautious while they feel each other out that their feelings develop organically, and it doesn't feel like overly sentimental fluff that causes eyerolls or groans.

The element of Katie's crime and the detective's relentless pursuit of her is an interesting element to a film like this, and one that is handled very well. It makes you wonder if a true crime drama directed by Lasse Halstrom would be just as good as this side plot.

There many reasons to dismiss a movie like Safe Haven. The done-to-death poster design, the Nicholas Sparks label, the melodramatic country song attached to the trailer, and the impossibly attractive leads all paint a picture of an evening that could only be enjoyed by the female companion who drags her boyfriend to this movie. Safe Haven should be seen with an open mind. Its twist ending is kind of silly and unnecessary, but besides that it's a charming romantic story that both women and men might enjoy.