Safe Haven (2013)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V -4; L -1; S/N -2. Running time: 1 hour 55 min.

Do not, O Lord, withhold
your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
keep me safe for ever.
Psalm 40.11

Katie finds a new purpose in life with the widower Alex and his children Lexie and Josh.

2013 Relativity Media

Going to a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel is much like stopping at a MacDonald’s fast food restaurant.

You know ahead of time what you will get, and that what you get will be satisfying, even if not exactly the most nutritious. The Girl or The Boy will be troubled in some way; the two will have trouble hitting it off; there will at last be a lovemaking scene pushing the boundary (a little) between PG-13 and R; and there will be lots of lush music indicating what we should feel.

This time around in his story Sparks has added a touch of thriller/mystery, perhaps to widen his audience to include the guys whom his female fans will drag into the theater—especially in that the film opened on Valentine’s Day. Not a bad idea, and this keeps us wondering about the dark past of heroine Katie (Julianne Hough). The prologue to the film shows Katie hastily fleeing her Boston home, a seemingly dead man lying on the kitchen floor—we see only his arm. She hastens to the bus station where she leaves Boston behind for Atlanta. Then, after several stops, she gets off the bus seemingly on a whim and stays in Southport, North Carolina where she very quickly finds a job at the local dockside diner, rents a secluded rundown cottage, and finds a friend, Jo (Cobie Smulders), a nearby neighbor. She also is slowly drawn to Alex (Josh Duhamel), the owner of the general store and widowed father of two adorable children.

Just as Katie has a painful past, so does Alex, his wife having died from cancer. We see why he is still grieving for her because she must have been a wonderful person, judging by the letters she has left for their son and daughter, to be opened on their 16th (?) birthday and upon their graduation from high school. But of course, we know that eventually Alex will be able to give his heart to the newcomer, and also that Katie’s dark past will catch up with her. To make sure we will not forget this there are frequent cut aways to Kevin Tierney (David Lyons), a Boston homicide (so we presume) detective who seems unusually obsessive with hunting Katie down. The why of his passion we discover in the last quarter of the film. And at the end there is something revealed about Jo that strikes viewers in very different ways (you can see this in the Comments section of Imdb’s website).

Were this a Christian novel Katie might pray the above words from Psalm 40, but then maybe Alex is a good stand-in for God as a safe haven. Or is he, given his initial reaction when he learns Katie’s dark secret? His reaction upon learning that Katie has fled from the law is probably the most realistic touch of this romantic fantasy in that we see he is not “the perfect man,” but a guy with some flaws.

The film could have been improved greatly by showing more of the children than it does. Lexie was so young when her mother dies that, as Alex puts it, she remembers more of the idea of her mother than the actual person, so she is quick to accept Katie. Josh is more restrained, having retreated into his sorrow, even from his father. The process of Katie winning him over would have made this a more realistic, certainly a more interesting, story. As it is, even with Lasse Hallstrom’s direction (remember his far better film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), his film is what was once called a Hollywood weepy. Despite my knowing this, I must admit, there was some moisture in my eyes when I listened in as Katie read a letter given to here, but I realize that the tears were not entirely deserved.

For Reflection/Discussion

There are spoilers in this section, especially beginning with Q. 3.

1. From what we see in the prologue what do we assume that Katie has done? Given what we learn later about her husband, why does her flight make some sense?

2. What kind of a person is Alex? How do we see that his deceased wife must have been worthy of his tears and long period of mourning?

3. When Jo is introduced, did you expect that she might be Katie’s rival for the affections of Alex? Did you wonder why she seems to have no other relationships, that we see her only with Katie?

4. At what point did you realize fully who Det. Tierney is? What has made him his worst enemy? Or, another way to put it, how is he both villain and victim?

5. What do you think of the ending and of the revelation about Jo? How do you feel about the latter—too clever a plot device, or a secular version of guardian angel?