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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



The Best of Me, Review: Trials and Tribulations alias Love v/s Bullets

The Best of Me, Review: Trials and Tribulations alias Love v/s Bullets

Author-producer Nicholas Sparks is on a nine-hole course as his ninth novel is shaped into a film by William Hoffman. The Best of Me is a curiously misleading title that could easily have been associated with a Jim Carrey contortion. Instead, it is a heady, mushy concoction of love and dignity, selflessness and eternity.

Former high school sweethearts Amanda Collier and Dawson Cole reconnect after 25 years when their mentor, Tuck Hostetler, dies, and they are summoned back to Oriental, North Carolina for his funeral by lawyer who has been retained to execute his will. One of things that drove Amanda and Dawson apart was that they were from the opposite side of the class divide. But neither one of them got along with their parents; both were intelligent, both had dreams, and over the years, both of them had disappointments. In the spring of 1984, high school students Amanda and Dawson fell deeply, irrevocably in love. But as the summer of their senior year came to a close, unforeseen events tear the young couple apart, setting them on radically divergent paths.

Neither has lived the life they imagined . . . and neither can forget the passionate first love that forever changed their lives. As Amanda and Dawson carry out the instructions Tuck left behind for them, they realise that everything they thought they knew—about Tuck, about themselves, and about the dreams they held dear—was not as it seemed. Forced to confront painful memories, the two former lovers will discover undeniable truths about the choices they have made. And in the course of a single, searing weekend, they will ask of the living, and the dead: Can love truly rewrite the past?

Nicholas Sparks is one of the world’s most famous story-tellers. All of his books have been New York Times bestsellers, with over 97 million copies sold worldwide, in more than 50 languages, including over 65 million copies in the United States alone. Sparks wrote one of his best-known stories, The Notebook, over a period of six months at age 28. It was published in 1996. Safe Haven, Sparks’s eighth film adaptation and on which he served as a Producer, The tenth Spark novel to be filmed is The Longest Ride. Along with The Lucky One, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and The Last Song, screen adaptations of Nicholas Sparks’s novels have a cumulative worldwide gross of over three-quarters of a billion dollars. Not bad at all. But is The Best of Me the best of Spark? Not entirely.

Nicholas Sparks: “When I set out to write this novel, I knew I wanted to focus on middle-aged character--people in their forties, who are really beginning to confront the “what-if” questions, and who are starting to second-guess the choices they made when they were younger. For Amanda, this is asking herself what would’ve happened if she married the man she loved, rather than someone else? I actually first used a funeral to bring old friends together in an old, unfinished manuscript, but I used it again in The Best of Me, because it was a natural fit with these characters. When someone dies, it really prompts those what-if questions—it makes you look long and hard at the life you are living in a way that I think is essential to Amanda’s and Dawson’s growth throughout the book.”

Michael Hoffman’s films include the Academy Award-nominated The Last Station and Restoration, and romantic comedies One Fine Day and Soapdish. He draws out intense performances and refrains from letting the sentimental mush get into a rush. The Best of Me is likely to appeal a lot to believers in great contemporary romances and the everlasting quality of first love. As is the norm when it comes to casting actors in characters imaginatively delineated by well-known authors, this film scores too. Hoffman succeeds in garnering well-deserved empathy for his lead pair.

Apparently, the story had less footage allotted to the younger couple, but Hoffman and his screenplay writers J. Mills Goodloe and Will Fetters have divided the pages almost equally. Nature in its various forms is almost a living entity in the film: the ocean, a pond, landscapes, trees, quaint homes, a water reservoir hangout that towers over the land below. Contrast this with the trappings of progress: an oil rig, an explosion, pick-up trucks, two-wheelers, cars, guns, drug-running. But there is an all pervading sadness in the movie that may be largely due to the script itself and partly due to the circumstances that Hoffman found himself in when he took up the project, “My wife left me for my best friend, after 23 years (of marriage).”

Hoffman on the cast: “Michelle (Monaghan) and James (Marsden), they all have moments. She goes to some really powerful places – when she has the moment… breaking down on the stairs, not a lot of actors can go there. He is so charming and open and available. And the young ones! I’m going to put my money on the both of them being movie stars. Luke (Bracey) really has got the big movie star thing. And Liana (Liberato)– there are moments where it’s like… she’s Audrey Hepburn.” Luke is part Australian. As for Liana, I agree that she reminds us of Hepburn, a sensual, bold Hepburn. Her most beautiful face and her most enticing backless dresses, not to mention her….will make many a heart go throb throb throb.

James Marsden, the star of The Notebook, 30 Rock, 27 Dresses, X-Men, Enchanted, and Hairspray, has a gaze that would melt most hearts. And when he speaks, it is a soft, sad pitch. On the lighter side, “I learned how to cut an onion! I cut my finger doing it, but there’s a proper way to chop vegetables in the kitchen. I needed to look like I knew what I was doing.” And he sure knew what he was doing.

Fifteen years ago, Michelle Monaghan was a journalism student at Columbia College before she left for Manhattan, to pursue an acting career. Monaghan, now 38, has made some waves for her roles in Mission: Impossible III, Gone Baby Gone, and Source Code. Her idols? “I love Annette Bening, Jessica Lange, and my all-time favorite, Gena Rowlands.” Special mention must be made of Gerald McRaney as Tuck. Here’s an old widower who will make your eyes overflow. So will many others in the film, so keep some tissues handy.

Rating: ***


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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