Friday 3 July 2020

Movie Review: The Best Of Me (2014)

A dramatic romance, The Best Of Me is a story of an enduring love overloaded with tragedy.

An explosion on an oil rig off the Louisiana coast throws worker Dawson Cole (James Marsden) into the ocean, but he miraculously survives and starts to wonder about his destiny. Separately, his former highschool sweetheart Amanda Collier-Reynolds (Michelle Monaghan) is unhappy in a loveless marriage. They are both summoned to settle the estate of Dawson's surrogate father Tuck Hostetler (Gerald McRaney). 

The origins of their romance from 21 years ago are revealed in flashback. In highschool Dawson (Luke Bracey) is the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, regularly abused by his heinous father Tommy (Sean Bridgers). Amanda (Liana Liberato) is a popular girl with ambitions to become a lawyer. Despite the class divide they meet and fall in love. Dawson flees Tommy's violence and finds refuge with the kindly Tuck. The young lovers make plans for an idyllic future, but tragedy strikes, forcing a separation.

Back in the present Dawson and Amanda sort through Tuck's belongings and rekindle their passionate romance, admitting they never stopped loving each other. But she is married, and many other obstacles stand between them.

An adaptation of a 2011 Nicholas Sparks novel, The Best Of Me features an oil rig explosion, child abuse, an inadvertent killing, an infant lost to cancer, alcoholism, a shotgun confrontation, a brutal roughing-up, a sniper rifle shooting, a car crash, and open heart surgery, somehow packed into two hours. And three of these climactic moments arrive in a frenzied final 20 minutes.

Director Michael Hoffman ticks the boxes with impressive efficiency, avoiding any hints of subtlety in a drive for successive emotional highlights. The film is packaged with the visual gloss expected from a Sparks adaptation, water and light deployed to maximum effect, soft sunshine reflected off the lake, kisses in the torrential rain, sweat glistening off coyly exposed beautiful bodies.

But amidst the ridiculously frequent tragic carnage and excessive eye candy, this is actually a love story in two chapters set 21 years apart. Writers Will Fetters and J. Mills Goodloe do not spare the opposites-attract stereotypes: Dawson's family is the dictionary definition of white trash, while Amanda is the perky, smart and adventurous girl, better than her privileged upbringing and out to conquer the world. 

The admittedly sweet couple are brought to life by four decent performances. Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden are adequate bordering on tense as the adult couple now weighed down by the disillusionments of life, but their younger versions played by Liana Liberato and Luke Bracey are more prominent, radiating charisma and oxytocin. 

The Best Of Me never rises above breathlessly predictable, but is also never dull.

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