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A young woman with a mysterious past lands in Southport, North Carolina, where her bond with a widower forces her to confront the dark secret that haunts her.
For more about Safe Haven and the Safe Haven Blu-ray release, see Safe Haven Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on May 15, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Cobie Smulders, Red West, Jon Kohler, Tim Parati (I)
Director: Lasse Hallström
» See full cast & crew
Safe Haven Blu-ray Review
The title is an anagram of "Fans Heave." If you're a Nicholas Sparks fan, you just might.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, May 15, 2013
Safe Haven might've been a decent little romantic thriller for the chick-flick set. Might've being the operative word in that sentence. The film is the eight big screen adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel—and the second helmed by Chocolat director Lasse Hellström, after Dear John—and all the hallmarks are here: the lovey-dovey scene in the pouring rain, the weepy handwritten letters, the tragic cancer death, the date at the beach, all accompanied by the frantic and often ham-handed tugging of heartstrings. The guy's thematic playbook is as thin as some of his characters. What's strange is that, for long stretches, Safe Haven is actually as captivating as it is cliche. That is, it's a mostly well-crafted melodrama, with likable leads and plenty of smile-inducing flirting and just enough of a threat of danger to qualify as suspenseful. It's hokey but enjoyable, more naturally sweet than saccharine. But then comes the film's last act, with a twist so stupefying and audience insulting that it instantly takes the movie from pleasingly mediocre to irredeemably bad. You'll huff. You'll face-palm in are you kidding me exasperation. You'll ball up your snotty tissues and throw them at the screen. Did the studio not test this ending with an audience?
The film opens cold in a moment of weirdly David Lynch-ish "woman in trouble" terror, with the brunette Katie (Julianne Hough) running like mad through some suburban neighborhood, blood on her face and hands, carrying a plastic bag full of clothes. We get only flashback snippets of her predicament—an argument, a wielded knife, a kindly neighbor who lets Katie bleach her hair blonde in her bathroom—enough to whet our appetite for mystery while saving the big reveals for later in the story. Evading the police, Katie sneaks aboard a southbound bus and takes it as far as coastal Southport, North Carolina, a sleepy pitstop for tourists that looks like a good place to anonymously hide out.
She spends one night under a pier, but quickly—unbelievably quickly—gets a job at the local crab shack and arranges to rent a cottage out in the woods, away from prying eyes. Well, most prying eyes. After her first day at work, she comes home to find her nearest neighbor, Jo (Cobie Smulders)—a young woman as lonely as she is nosy—standing on the porch, peering through the windows. It's an awkward start, but they soon get to be good friends, sharing conversations with too-obvious dialogue like "Life is full of second chances," and "Look, no one is innocent. No one."
More importantly, Katie also develops a hot-and-cold relationship with Alex Wheatley (Josh Duhamel), a single father of two who lost his wife to cancer a few years prior—damn you Nicholas Sparks!—and now runs the town's tiny convenience store, getting some pint-sized help from his button-cute daughter, Lexie (Mimi Kirkland), while his pre-tween son, Josh (Noah Lomax), broods out on the dock with a fishing pole, missing his dead mom. Katie endears herself to the kids, but her anxiety about her dark past initially keeps her from getting too close to Alex.
Mutual attraction wins out over wariness, though, and the two are soon neck-deep in romance, with Katie playing surrogate mom and Alex whisking her off for local adventures. A trip to the beach lets them see each other's swimsuit bodies. An afternoon canoeing on the swamp gets disrupted by a sexy thunderstorm. They slow dance in a tackle shop and slurp oysters and make love in the moonlight. It's your usual Nicholas Sparks-y fare, with plenty of shots of light streaming through leafy boughs, meaningful glances, dewy eyes. If the film had a smell, it would be sunshine on tanned skin and saltwater-stiffened hair. As cheesy as it can be, this is seductive stuff, and Lasse Hellström knows how to draw us into a tightening orbit around these characters and their feelings. We like them. We want them to be together. Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough are beautiful as a couple and have great chemistry, which is pretty much all their roles require. At times, the movie is better than it has any right being.
It's amazing, unfortunately, how a few bad narrative decisions can completely negate the successful aspects of the storytelling. The film has a nicely barbed dramatic hook that gets us immediately—we know Katie's past is going to come back to haunt her eventually—but the script jerks so hard near the end that the line breaks and loses us completely. Tracking down Katie is the obsessive and alcoholic Detective Tierney (David Lyons), and everything about his increasingly important subplot is almost comically over-the-top, especially once he arrives in Southport and starts throwing vodka bottles at Fourth of July parade floats and setting fires. I'll say no more. But this isn't even the worst of it. When the danger inevitably subsides and sends the two lovebirds into a peaceful reverie, the film takes a last-minute supernatural turn that's ridiculous and completely unnecessary, inspiring eye-rolling and groans and are you kidding me outbursts. Who thought this was a good idea?
Safe Haven Blu-ray, Video Quality
Let's give Safe Haven this—it's quite handsome on Blu-ray, with a 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation that's sharp and wonderfully colorful. Shot digitally with Arri Alexa HD cameras, the material has a filmic look that's low on source noise—even in darker scenes—and completely free of compression issues like banding, macroblocking, or harsh artifacts. (No artificial-looking post-production blunders like edge enhancement or extreme color boosting either.) The image is simply pleasing from start to finish. The lensing is almost always very crisp, with a great sense of clarity in the areas where you tend to notice it most—the fine textural detail in faces, hair, and clothing—and the warm, sun-soaked color palette is perfect for the tone of the film. (You could argue that the grading is perhaps a bit too yellowish during certain scenes, but this is a stylistic decision.) Black levels are consistent, skin tones are balanced, and contrast is tight without losing shadow or highlight detail. No problems in this Grade-A encode whatsoever.
Safe Haven Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is satisfying too, if understandably low-impact considering this is a romance with only light thriller elements. Dialogue is central to the mix—it's always clear and understandable—and the soundfield is filled out with lots of appreciable ambience in the rear channels, from gull sounds and ocean breezes to pounding rain, blasts of thunder, and arcing Fourth of July fireworks. For this kind of film, the sound design is quite good, and everything has a great sense of clarity and presence. There's some minimal scoring by Dear John composer Deborah Lurie to underscore key scenes, but most of the music in the film is comprised of light and romantic adult contemporary acoustic tunes with lyrics that baldly correspond to what's happening in the scene. There are no dubs or stereo mix-downs on the disc, but you will find optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles, which appear in white, easy-to-read lettering.
Safe Haven Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Safe Haven Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Safe Haven could've been one of the better Nicholas Sparks adaptations; it has romance, cute leads, some oh-no-what's-gonna-happen-next thrills, and a gorgeous North Carolina setting. Unfortunately, it also has an unintentionally comic bad guy and a twist ending that'll make you want to punch a wall. Fans of the author's other work might still find that their entertainment needs are met here, but Safe Haven won't win the writer any new followers, especially among those who require some semblance of logic and believability in their romantic thrillers. 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release is all-around attractive—great picture quality, strong sound, a good selection of extras—but this disc is worth a one night stand Netflix rental at best.
Safe Haven: Other Editions
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Safe Haven Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Safe Haven Blu-ray (Updated) - April 9, 2013
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has revealed that it is planning to bring to Blu-ray Swedish director Lasse Hallström's (Abba: The Movie, Chocolat) latest film Safe Haven (2013), starring Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, and Cobie Smulders. The preliminary ...
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