The Best of Me (Blu-ray)

February 25, 2015 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Matt Malouf

Plot: What’s it about?

I’m pretty certain that films based on Nicholas Sparks’s novels have their built-in fan base and critic proof. Let’s face it: the fans eat this stuff up. One has to wonder when, if ever, he’ll change up his writing methods and offer a story that doesn’t use tragedy or melodrama to drive it. I suppose his method works for him, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Besides, I’ve never read one of his novels, so I can’t speak for how they play out, but the films based on them certainly all have familiar themes. 2014’s The Best of Me tries to shake the formula a bit. Instead of giving us brief flashbacks in spurts, it instead spends a lot of time with the characters both past and present. This became an issue for me since the different actors playing the same characters don’t exactly look alike. The story begins in the present with Dawson Cole (James Marsden) nearly dying in a disaster on the oilrig where he works. Circumstances put him back in contact with his old girlfriend from years ago, Amanda Reynolds (Michelle Monaghan). We then flashback to 1992 where we meet the couple at their earlier age. Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato play the younger characters. This sets the rest of the film in motion. We see the couple over the years interacting and we see the events that separate them for all these years. To be honest, there are a lot of things wrong with this film, but it does get some things right. It gets very emotional in its final moments (at least in the theatrical cut. More on that in a bit), and the leads do have decent chemistry together, but the story gets in their way. As mentioned, the actors that play the younger couple really don’t favor them at their present age one bit. I’d rather the film age them naturally or maybe with a touch of CGI (assuming it’s well done) or find actors that resemble each other more. I also don’t mind sad endings, but they’ve become the norm for films based on Sparks novels that it feels more like a requirement for all films based on his novels than an authentic moment that is earned.

One of the interesting things is that there are two cuts of the film available for the public viewing. The theatrical version and a “Tears of Joy” edition that drastically changes a major plot point, thus changing the tragic outcome as well. I’m not sure which I prefer, but it was nice to see a version that wasn’t cloaked in tragedy. I won’t reveal specifics any more as to avoid spoilers, but it was fun having the option to view both cuts. I don’t think one will win fans over more than the other. You’re either along for the ride from the start or you’re not. Ultimately, your appreciation for this kind of film will depend on how much you’re willing to let it manipulate you. If you like characters standing off in the sunset, kissing in the rain, and running into the old town bullies then this is all for you. If you want a sharper story with good acting and well written dialogue then look elsewhere.

Video: How’s it look?

About five years ago I was in Napa Valley, sitting atop a hill, near sunset sipping a glass of wine. I remember thinking to myself that what I was looking at looked more like a postcard or a painting than something I was seeing with my eyes. In much the same way, The Best of Me has that same look and feel to it. The colors are bold and dripping with color and some of the shots are so beautifully framed I had to pause just to “experience” it. Detail is sharp, leaving nothing to the imagination. Mardsen’s scruff is well-defined and some of the shots really do showcase the beauty of this film. The 2.40:1 AVC HD transfer is wide and is used well.  This is a beautifully-shot film.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Romance films haven’t ever really been noted for their robust soundtracks and, certainly, The Best of Me doesn’t really break new ground. Granted, there are a couple of moments of “glory” but they’re few and far between. By and large this DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack delivers a very standard-sounding track that checks off all of the boxes. Vocals are clear and well-represented, the front stage does its part and the surrounds are there for a few moments of additional ambiance.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Audio Commentary – I’ll be very honest here, I listened to maybe 15 minutes of this commentary track. I could pretty much tell that it was all going to be the same stuff for the next two hours, so there you go. From what I heard he was just lauding praise and he was “fortunate enough” to work on this film. Of note, this track is only available on the theatrical version and not the “Tears of Joy” version (more on that below).
  • Along for the Ride – This is one of the shortest segments I’ve seen which doesn’t even run two minutes – it’s essentially an EPK for the film.
  • Nicholas Sparks Interviews: Michelle and James – James Mardsen and Michelle Monaghan are interviewed by the author.
  • Nicholas Sparks Interviews: Liana and Luke – The younger versions, Liana Liberato and Luke Bracey, are also interviewed by Sparks.
  • Deleted Scenes – Running nearly ten minutes, these are scenes that didn’t make the final cut(s) of the film.
  • Music Video – The longest supplement, clocking in at just over three minutes is a video by Lady Antebellum who performs “I Did.”
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • “Tears of Joy” Edition – To their credit, this is actually a pretty interesting thing. There are two cuts of the movie on this Blu-ray and the ending of the “Tears of Joy” version is actually quite different than the theatrical cut of the film.
  • Digital HD Copy

The Bottom Line

Fans of Nicholas Sparks will likely find enjoyment from this film, but it did little for me; the leads have zero chemistry, and the story lags too often. Having both cuts of the film will help pursue those who are having doubts whether or not to buy it. Recommended only for fans of the film. All others should steer clear.

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