Title: Safe Haven
Director: Lasse Hallström (‘Dear John,’ ‘The Cider House Rules’)
Starring: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel and Cobie Smulders (‘The Avengers’)
Creating a new perspective for an established image can be a daunting task at times. However, the new romantic mystery drama ‘Safe Haven’ sets out to not only offer a different approach to the film adaptations of novels by Nicholas Sparks, but also the acting career of lead actress Julianne Hough and the life of her character, Katie. The movie incorporates a suspenseful crime into Katie’s potential new romance, offering a strong back-story for the actress to showcase her acting ability.
‘Safe Haven’ follows Katie, a mysterious young woman who boards a bus in Boston to travel south and start a new life. During a rest stop in the small North Carolina beach town of Southport, Katie relishes in the community’s quiet nature, and decides to stay. While beautiful and self-effacing, Katie avoids any questions about her past, which draws attention to her sudden and unexpected arrival.
But after settling in the town after starting a job at a local seaside restaurant, Katie begins forming friendships with the locals, including her neighbor, Jo (Cobie Smulders), who encourages her to form a romantic relationship with Alex (Josh Duhamel). While reluctant at first to trust anyone in the close-knit community, Katie begins to fall in love with Alex, the widowed father and co-owner of the local general store. With Alex’s encouragement, Katie also begins to form bonds with his children-Lexie (Mimi Kirkland) and Josh (Noah Lomax), who;s initially reluctant to accept a new woman into his father’s life. With her new relationships, Katie realizes she must chose between a life of transient safety and one of riskier rewards.
Hough, an award-winning dancer, choreographer and singer, who branched into movies out by starring in such musical films as ‘Footloose‘ and ‘Rock of Ages,’ showed her diversity as an actress with her role as Katie. Hallström, who didn’t strictly stick to the script while filming, allowed Hough to improvise lines with Duhamel during many of their scenes, which allowed the actress to truly connect with Katie. Hough naturally and emotionally developed the protagonist by initially portraying her as being guarded and determined to escape her troubled past when she first boarded the bus in Boston. But once Katie saw Alex’s heartfelt intentions in even the simplest gestures, from giving her a bike so that she doesn’t have to walk everywhere in Southport to extending an invitation to her to join his family at the beach, Hough emphasized Katie’s relatability by showing she learned to trust again.
Hallström uniquely differentiated the movie from other film adaptations based on Sparks’ novels, which have mainly been driven by romance and drama, by incorporating they mystery element of Katie’s background. The director created suspense by not immediately divulging the real reasons why Katie was fleeing from her life in Boston. He also intriguingly interlaced Katie’s blossoming romance with Alex by featuring snippets of her hurriedly running from her home, and the audience learns of her past in the same pace Alex does. The intrigue is also cleverly built by switching back and forth from Katie’s new life in Southport and the investigation into her disappearance by Boston detective Tierney (David Lyons). He doesn’t initially reveal his motives into looking into the case to his superiors, and why he’s so determined to find Katie until she comfortably settles down in North Carolina, which continuously poses the question of how he’s truly involved in the investigation.
‘Safe Haven’s production designer, Kara Lindstrom, expertly added to the drama’s mystery and romance by creating diverse sets that showcase the characters’ personalities and feelings toward the people around them. When Katie first arrived in Southport, she moved into a small cabin in the woods and didn’t decorate it with many of her own belongings, emphasizing her desire to keep her life private and separate from the community. But as she develops relationships within the community, especially Alex, Lindstrom added subtle but effective touches to the cabin, including painting the kitchen floor yellow, to showcase Katie’s increasing happiness. Lindstrom also created a small but endearing room where Alex kept his late wife’s belongings, including her desk where he kept letters she had written to her family before she died. He would sit in the room while contemplating his relationship with Katie and try to figure out how to best raise his children.
Like the previous film adaptations of Sparks’ novels, ‘Safe Haven’ chronicles the struggles of a couple trying to connect romantically, as they are forced to conquer their fears and overcome their internal conflicts. But it also emphasized the importance of creating a new image for everone, including Hough, who showcased her ability and potential as an actress in her first non-musical role. The film was also diverse from other films based on the author’s novels in the fact that it also featured the mystery element to Katie’s past, and why she needed to seek refuge in Southport. Also aided by the intricately designed sets that Lindstrom created, ‘Safe Haven’ offered a diverse element to the normally straightforward, predictable films that are usually based on Sparks’ novels.
Written by: Karen Benardello