Dir: Lasse Hallstrom, US, 2012 115mins
Review by Marianne Gray
Director Lasse Halstrom has a cool Swedish eye on him and his films always look visually distinct, for example Chocolat and Cider House Rules. Safe Haven is no different. It looks great. Set in an exotic location with impossibly beautiful people, exquisite lighting, perfect ambient music; it sort of envelops you from the start.
Based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, Dear John), it is a love story with thriller elements. A mysterious young woman (country singer Julianne Hough) flees the suburbs of Boston and arrives on a long-distance bus in a very small North Carolina town. She doesn’t want to join the tightly-woven community of nice, kind, decent, happy people and their clapboard cottages; because there’s something dark and embittering deep within her that she has to sort out. She’s on the run and she knows it.
Harbouring her own secrets, she slowly settles down to a new pace of life in this safe haven. Helped by love raising its head in the form of drop-dead gorgeous Josh Duhamel (Transformers), the local widower with two kids and a little store to run, and by friendship with a dark, beautiful, mysterious female neighbour (Cobie Smulders, who played Maria Hill in The Avengers), she starts to build up trust.
OK, so not a lot is happening here but the tone and pace of the piece makes something apparently simple quite absorbing. You know that the nasty thriller element is going to hit base camp in paradise soon and when it does the film leaps into life and jolts you out of your reverie.
This is an engagingly well-made and grown-up film with a good understanding of unsentimental love and pain. With its low-key romance it rings truthful in that nice, clean American way and then, with a few unexpected thrills, it gets a bit dirty as well.