When I first heard that another of Nicholas Sparks’s novels had been adapted into a movie, I knew it was a must see, no exceptions. After The Notebook and Dear John, Safe Haven surely promised real romance and a deeply moving story line. Many critics, though, had panned the film and I arrived at the movie theater prepared for a love disaster. Instead, I left the theater in tears for all the right reasons.

Safe Haven begins with Katie (Julianne Hough) running from detective Kevin Tierney (David Lyons). We have no clue as to why Katie is running, that is, until much later in the film. Katie winds up in the quaint town of Southport, N.C., where she meets a friend in Jo (Colbie Smulders), who knows more than she’s letting on, and a widower named Alex (Josh Duhamel). Alex lost his wife a few years ago to cancer, and is left to raise his two kids, Lexi (Mimi Kirkland) and Josh (Noah Lomax). While the movie focuses on the romance between Katie and Alex, director Lasse Hallstrom makes sure the audience does not lose sight of the problem here. We get a few haunting and violent flashbacks that hint at Katie’s mysterious past, and the movie continues to follow deranged detective Tierney, whose presence gives the movie a stalker thriller feel.

Safe Haven’s main highlight is when Katie and Alex go canoeing and Alex pours out his damaged soul, confiding that he sees Katie as the light at the end of a dark tunnel. While the Katie-Alex connection felt empty and forced at times, Safe Haven’s surprising ending, which some critics have argued is silly, redeemed some of the film’s shortcomings.

Safe Haven is classified as a romance movie, but there were times when I wondered if it wasn’t also supposed to be a thriller. There were several moments that literally made me jump out of my seat, including a scene when Katie fell through the floor boards when she suspected an unwanted presence was walking outside her house. I even heard a few screams in the theater during a particularly intense scene involving Detective Tierney.

While Safe Haven may not be the best romance movie out there, it is still a heartwarming, simple and pleasant tale. Duhamel is vulnerable and sweet, and Hallstrom and company do just enough to keep all of the hopeless romantics out there hooked.

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