Anyone expecting Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) to veer from his tried and true method of romantic story telling would be sorely disappointed with The Longest Ride. As is Sparks' M.O., once again, there are multi-generational love stories, tragedy, heartbreak, and ultimately, a happy ending. While slightly more interesting than Sparks' last novel turned to screenplay, The Best of Me, it is still, nonetheless, Sparks' "schmaltz" at it's best.
Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood – yes, son of Clint; Fury) is a former champion bull rider trying to reclaim glory after a dangerous fall and life threatening injury. Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson; Tommorrowland) is a College Senior studying art and getting ready to head from North Carolina to a terrific internship in New York. She isn't interested in entanglements but finds she and Luke can't seem to stay away from each other. Ira Levinson (Alan Alda; M*A*S*H) is an old man with a box of love letters to his wife, Ruth (Oona Chaplin – granddaughter of Charlie; Game of Thrones). These lives become entangled in a "too much of a coincidence" kind of way.
When Ira gets hurt, Sophia becomes his frequent visitor as she reads the love letters he wrote to his wife over the years. Young Ira (Jack Huston - Grandson of John; American Hustle) and Ruth are happy, except for the fact that a war injury has left him sterile and Ruth longs for a large family. Together, they ride out (pun intended) their sorrows as Ira indulges Ruth in her passion – Art. Are you starting to see the parallels yet because they are practically screaming at you?
While there are no surprises in the plot, the acting is another story. Eastwood does an admirable job as a leading man with manners, southern charm and sweetness oozing out of him. Robertson is as terrific as always and the on screen chemistry between these two young talents is palpable. Chaplin is fabulous as the young, vibrant Ruth and lights up the screen. She draws the attention away from Huston in every scene. However, the true star of this movie is Alda. I have loved him since M*A*S*H, and he has never let me down. His version of the Elder Levinson is spot on, and adds so much emotion to Ruth and Ira's love story.
The story is groan worthy at times and the similarities between the two couples and their lives makes you want to role your eyes at least half a dozen times. Ruth and Ira's story, to me, was, at least, interesting - set in an every changing world of the 1940's. Luke and Sophia's plot line was just another romance novel brought to life.
The North Carolina scenery makes you glad the movie has 1080p video. The rolling hills, all lush and green, are breathtaking and make you want to pack up and move there. The sharp colors also give the viewer a true appreciation for the artwork showcased thought the film. The DTS-HD Mater Audio 7.1 had some issues on my copy but I'm not sure if I just got a defective disc. Many times while Alda was speaking the audio would drop out or crackle. Regardless, the audio isn't the star of the film.
There are a number of extras on this Blu-ray digital release, including a look behind bull riding and Eastwood's training, a discussion between Sparks and Alda, deleted and extended scenes and a fairly cheesy short where Sparks mocks his day and writing process. I personally would skip the last two as they added nothing to the overall story and film.
The Longest Ride is about love and passion, as well as dedication and sacrifice. However, at the end of the day, it is still a Nicholas Sparks' film and you pretty much get what you expect. For the hopeless romantic, it will be love at first sight with a few tears shed along the way. Grade: C+