Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: George Tillman jr
Stars: Scott Eastwood, Britt Robertson, Alan Alda, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin, Lolita Davidovitch, Melissa Benoist, Gloria Rueben.
“True love requires sacrifice,” says Ira Levinson (Alan Alda), in The Longest Ride, the 10th formulaic and somewhat predictable romantic drama from the prolific pen of Nicholas Sparks, who writes manipulative, three handkerchief weepies.
The popular and unashamedly soppy The Notebook is probably the best example of his work, mainly because of the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. But there is also a formula to his work. His novels often centre around two sets of star crossed lovers, including a handsome looking couple who have to make some important choices and also work through some personal issues before they can find happiness; there is usually some form of correspondence involved, whether it be diaries, letters, etc; and a past relationship that informs the present. And so it is with this latest film adaptation of a Sparks’ melodrama.
The film concerns Luke Collins (played by Scott Eastwood, son of veteran actor and director Clint), a rodeo rider who is on the comeback trail after a horrific mishap that saw him trampled by Rango, the meanest bull on the circuit. At a rodeo he meets Sophia (Britt Robertson, from Under The Dome, etc), an arts student at the nearby university, who is about to head off to New York for an internship with an upmarket art gallery. But sparks fly between the pair, who exchange more than a few long and longing looks.
However, with a family ranch to maintain, Luke is reluctant to give up his dangerous occupation as he desperately wants to claim a title. He only has to ride a bull for eight seconds in the ring. However, a relationship can last a lifetime, and Luke and Sophia have to work out what they want from life.
As it happens, luck intervenes. On the way home from a date they come across a car that has crashed through a railing and into a tree. Luke and Sophia rescue the disoriented occupant, Ira (Alda) from the vehicle before it bursts into flames. At Ira’s request, Sophia also rescues a basket full of letters. While he is recovering in the hospital Sophia visits him and reads the letters to him. They turn out to be love letters that Ira wrote to his beloved wife during the course of their 60-year relationship. And of course they provide the inspiration for Sophia to make some tough choices concerning her future.
An extended series of flashbacks charts the romance that developed between Ruth (played by Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of screen comic Charlie Chaplin), the daughter of a Jewish refugee family who managed to leave Europe before the outbreak of WWII, and Ira (played as a younger man by Jack Huston, grandson of legendary John Huston), whose mother ran a local haberdashery store. Their romance is not an easy one as the war left Ira physically damaged and the couple are unable to have children, which occasionally brings some tension to their marriage. But Ruth found solace through her love of art and teaching, especially when she mentored a damaged young boy from an impoverished background.
Screenwriter Craig Bolotin (Black Rain, etc) has brought Sparks’ purple prose to the screen, and he has not tampered with the author’s successful and familiar formula. Sparks’ novel also explores themes of class, war, the past, family, responsibility, the choices we make, and the pain of romance.
The Longest Ride has been directed with great sensitivity by George Tillman jr (Soul Food, Notorious, etc), and the film will appeal to the legion of Sparks’ fans who know what to expect. The film has been handsomely mounted, with some authentic period design from Mark E Garner. It has also been lushly filmed on location in North Carolina, and cinematographer David Tattersall does a great job with the visuals. He has shot the flashback sequences in muted colours. Mark Isham’s score is also quite manipulative, effectively evoking strong emotional response from the target audience.
Tillman draws good performances from Huston and Chaplin, who bring a touch of gravitas to their damaged characters and suffuse the material with a real sense of pain and regret. As is often the case with Sparks’ stories, the one set in the past is far more interesting and engaging than the one set in the present day.
Alda often comes across as arrogant, aloof and cold on screen, but here he manages to suffuse his bedridden Ira with a sense of warmth and compassion. This is the biggest role to date for the young Eastwood (who has small roles in Gran Torino and Invictus, etc), who has the same amiable presence and rugged charisma as his legendary father in his heyday as a western hero. And despite being lumbered with a fairly one-dimensional character here, Robertson shows enough to suggest that she is set for bigger and better things
I initially went in to The Longest Ride with low expectations though, especially after having sat through The Best Of Me, the previous adaptation of one of his novels, which had one of the stupidest and most contrived endings of any film in recent memory. But this turned out to be quite enjoyable and far more engaging and entertaining than I expected. Even so, it didn’t need to be 139 minutes long, and there is some unnecessary padding throughout.
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