The Longest Ride review: Saddle up for this sprawling weepie
It may not be a ground-breaker, but Andrew Johnston says the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation still turn on the waterworks
The Longest Ride is not a film for cynics, the hard-hearted or anyone looking for explosions, car chases or CGI aliens. But for its target demographic - the kind of people who find cowboys impossibly hot and don't mind animal cruelty or shameless materialism being used to sell a love story - the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation should push most of the right buttons.
The sprawling weepie is essentially two pictures in one, which goes some way to justifying its buttock-testing running time. The narrative is split between two couples separated by half a century, whose lives become intertwined following a car crash late at night on a country road in the rain. (Is there any other setting for car crashes in these movies?)
Heading home after their first date in some picturesque corner of North Carolina, the wildly mismatched pair of ranch-dwelling bull rider Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood) and art-loving university girl Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson) come across the injured form of Ira Levinson (Alan Alda). Recovering in hospital, crotchety, old Ira's tale comes alive courtesy of a series of letters Sophia has retrieved from his blazing vehicle.
We're taken back to 1940s North Carolina, where Ira's mild-mannered younger self (Jack Huston) is falling in love with Ruth (Oona Chaplin), an intellectual Austrian refugee from the Nazis. Their story, which takes in a life-changing war wound, the acquisition of Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol paintings, and the attempted adoption of a dirty-faced, sullen, redneck boy (is there any other kind of boy in these movies?), overlaps with that of Luke and Sophia, whose principal challenge is that she wants him to give up the 'sport' he loves, as a lingering head injury could kill him the next time he climbs onto the back of a bull.
Meanwhile, Luke regards the expensive modern art Sophia wants to spend her life hawking as - and this is the script's best joke, so jump to the next paragraph if you don't want it spoiled - "bulls***".
The core message that unites these disparate stories is a simple, and, to be fair, true one - love requires sacrifice.
Director George Tillman, Jr, whose filmography includes the Barbershop franchise and a Notorious BIG biopic, might not be the most obvious man to helm this unashamedly conservative yarn, but he keeps a steady hand on proceedings, ushering us to the typically outlandish closing twist that has become a trademark of Sparks's work.
The cast do their best to sell it. At 79, Alda remains eminently watchable, while Robertson, following up her leading role in Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, again proves a sparky, likeable performer.
As for Roberton's on-screen beau, well, you've heard of tribute bands; Scott Eastwood is a tribute actor. His face and mannerisms continually evoke his more famous father, and if he doesn't quite have Clint's charm or presence, he manages not to make us hate his narcissistic, rather ignorant character - no mean feat.
It's manipulative and often silly, and the glorification of bull riding and material wealth certainly leave a bad taste in the mouth. But despite all of that, it gets you in the end.
If The Notebook or Dear John had you bawling into your popcorn, then The Longest Ride should at least induce a few sniffles into your Coke.