DIRECTOR: Lasse Hallström; CAST: Julianne Hough, David Lyons, Josh Dushamel…
SUMMARY (from IMDB): 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.
I picked up Safe Haven a few years ago and although I had liked a few of Nicholas Sparks’ books, for example, Message in a Bottle, The Notebook, The Rescue, I couldn’t get past the first twenty pages or so of Safe Haven. I haven’t picked up a Sparks’ book since. Therefore, I wasn’t particularly interested in the film based on it. Basically, the only reason I watched Safe Haven was David Lyons.
My biggest problem with Safe Haven was that it didn’t make me invested into the main protagonists’ storyline. There are films (and books) when starting in medias res works great. Safe Haven is not one of them. Katie’s backstory is only shown in vague few seconds-long flashbacks and we learn what actually happened only about three quarters into the film, which made me feel disconnected from Katie. I just couldn’t care about her or root for her. For all we can glimpse in the flashbacks – some struggling and her scared face and bloody hands, she could have just as well been a murderess (albeit accidental) and/or a cheater. I think if the film started with showing her being abused, I would immediately sympathise with her and be more interested in her story.
Next, Katie’s romance with Alex follows the same path. We are not shown how they fall in love – there’s some misunderstanding, some flirting, and suddenly they sleep together, and only later – again three quarters in the film – Alex learns about Katie’s past and in the end they suddenly love each other.
Alex’s backstory would be interesting had it been presented less superficially. However, we are more or less only told rather than shown that he is struggling with the loss of his wife (I mean, he doesn’t hesitate at making his moves on Katie, so…). The same goes for how his kids deal with it. I think the whole matter was best portrayed by Alex’s little son. That says it all.
As I have said, the reason I even watched Safe Haven was David Lyons, who plays Katie’s abusive alcoholic husband. I am seriously partial to David Lyons, but still, his character is in my opinion the best developed and portrayed in the film. I know we are supposed to hate him, but I couldn’t quite.
Yes, mentally and physically abusing one’s spouse is a horrible thing and ‘but he/she loved her/him’ is never an acceptable excuse. However, I couldn’t but feel for Kevin, because he did love her and he was torn between knowing what he was doing was horrible and being sorry about it and on the other hand being unable to stop doing that. So, I couldn’t just simply hate him but I was wondering what has gone wrong. Kevin’s abuse and alcoholism were obviously old problems and it made me question what caused them and if anyone tried to do something about it and help him or not and if not, why? Did Katie try to talk to him and maybe get them into therapy, before things escalated? What about his job? Maybe something (or just regular stress) work-related triggered his alcoholism and abusiveness? How come his superiors didn’t notice anything earlier and made him get some counselling? You see what I’m getting at? Kevin is such a complex villain and so well-presented by David Lyons I can’t just simply hate him. If they meant me to do that, they should have opened the film with him cold-heartedly abusing Katie. I think that would have made an entirely different movie.
Another thing that bothered me in Safe Haven was the inclusion of ‘mystery’. Yes, in quotation marks. I started being suspicious about it after Katie’s dream and I wasn’t surprised at the revelation. What bothered me was how this topic was just put there as something on the side, because I usually like those kind of mysteries when they are properly dealt with. Thus, it just seemed like a cheap trick (and perhaps copying, I’m not sure which book was written first, Safe Haven or P.S. I Love You, but the latter was what this whole matter immediately reminded me of, except that it was far from being anywhere near to being as good).
Overall, I think Safe Haven’s main issue is trying to deal with too many topics, and while domestic abuse, loss of a spouse and a parent and dealing with it and letting a new person into one’s life, and afterlife are intriguing topics more than worth delving into, Safe Haven just brushes past them and thus trivializes them.
Some films and books can make dealing with numerous themes work out great. Safe Haven is not one of those. A part of the problem is that Hallström (and Sparks) seemed unable to decide between making this a drama or a romance, and so they made a tasteless mix of both. Instead of exploring the themes and making the viewers think about them, Safe Haven makes the viewers do all the work and speculate about practically everything.
RECOMMENDATION: I can’t really recommend Safe Haven. Unless you are just looking for something to kill time with or for certain actor/actress. The main romance just didn’t interest me. I would have stopped watching after the first fifteen or twenty minutes if it wasn’t for David Lyons.