There is perhaps no better day to release the latest film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel than Valentine’s Day. The newest Sparks-inspired film is “Safe Haven,” directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Lasse Hallström, whose previous work includes family dramas and light comedies such as “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.” For “Safe Haven,” Hallström stepped out of his comfort zone and broke the traditional formula of previous Sparks adaptations.
“Safe Haven” follows a young woman (Julianne Hough) who tries to escape her mysterious past by absconding to a small town in North Carolina. Her bond with a widower (Josh Duhamel) forces her to confront a secret as a detective (David Lyons), hell-bent on finding her, closes in.
“I am really drawn to stories that tell about people. Real people and relations,” Hallström said. “I’m interested in stories driven by character as opposed to stories driven by plot.”
This is the director’s second partnership with Sparks; he also directed “Dear John,” which starred Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum. According to Hallström, “Safe Haven” gave him the opportunity to expand his filmmaking horizons more than many of the films he has previously directed because he was able to experiment with intensity.
“I guess the new element was the thriller element,” he said.
However, the biggest difference between this film and Hallström’s others is the use of improvisation. To capture a realistic effect in each scene, he did not allow the actors to use the script in many shots.
“This is more improvisational than any other film I’ve made, really,” he said. “[The actors] bring their own personality to these parts because I encouraged a lot of improvisation. And I think that gives the film a freshness that it probably wouldn’t have had if they were stuck to the written page. I wanted it to feel like a documentary on two people falling in love.”
Thanks to Hallström’s directing, the characters’ interactions with each other feel natural rather than overrehearsed. Cinematographer Terry Stacey complements Hallström’s directing with frames featuring stunning images, vivid colors and breathtaking landscapes.
“[The cinematography] doesn’t feel stylized or false,” Hallström said of Stacey. “It’s just very pleasant to the eye. It’s not beautified or sentimentalized, it’s just beautifully painted.”
Over the years, Sparks’ films have developed a reputation for being chick flicks, but the director insists “Safe Haven” is a film for everyone.
“I think guys would enjoy the film, too. I don’t think that it is a chick flick,” Hallström said. “Chick flick implies that there is something sentimental about the story that only chicks can appreciate. But I don’t think there is anything that would scare guys off. I think they could enjoy this one as a good movie, so I want you guys to go see it.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Feb. 14 print edition. Shawn Flanagan is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.