Nicholas Sparks has thoroughly tapped into the romance genre with his books, and seven – including Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember and more – have been made into movies. This time out Sparks wised up somewhat by adding intrigue, action and thriller moments that even some male viewers are calling “excellent.”
Katie (Julianne Hough) can't take the abuse from her police officer husband any longer. After an unexpected skirmish that does not end well, she flees Boston on a bus to Atlanta. Katie knows there's an all-points bulletin out on her, but she isn't ready to face that music yet.
The bus makes a stop mid route in the small community of Southport where Katie can take her first deep breath. She takes in the scenery of this place bordering a beautiful beach. As the bus rolls on without her, Katie clings to an idea that maybe Southport will be a haven of safety.
It's only hours until Katie walks into a small store to find a delightful young girl behind the counter. Lexie’s dad, Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower and part owner of the store, is busy with his two children who recently lost their mother.
Katie and Alex, who can't keep their eyes off each other, seem determined not to give in to their desires. Katie is finally given a job at the store but rebuffs Alex’s kind gestures such as when he gives her a bike to ride to back and forth from the little house in the woods.
Alex is attracted to Katie – but conflicted. He loved his wife very much and doesn't want to be unfair to his or the children's memories. Jo (Cobie Smulders), Katie’s new neighbor, who also has someone mysterious in her past, encourages Katie to give Alex a chance.
These two are soon in love, and everything seems perfect until the town's big yearly celebration, where an angry and unpredictable husband, Tierney (David Lyons) shows up with revenge on his mind.
What makes this story fresh involves director Lasse Hallstrm pushing his actors to go off script and ad lib many of the scenes to draw the audience in and make them feel like they are a part of the story.
“My interest is to evoke strong emotion,” Hallstrm said. “I really want to walk that tightrope and move people. It can be dangerous territory. Especially with a love story, the performances must be authentic. Sentimentality occurs when you push too hard for emotion. You avoid that trap by being honest and truthful in the performances and the telling of the story.”