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Studio: Warner Home Video
Year: 2008
Cast: Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Scott Glenn, Christopher Meloni
Director: George C. Wolfe
Release Date: May 4, 2009, 8:01 am
Rating: PG-13 for Sensuality
Run Time: 01h:37m:12s

"We all make choices, Adrienne. You chose that life, you chose that man. Do you even remember who you really are anymore?" - Paul Flanner (Richard Gere)

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Don't let the presence of Richard Gere and Diane Lane fool you, this is a dull and manipulative drama that falls woefully short of its potential.

Movie Grade: D

DVD Grade: B

Watching Nights in Rodanthe, I started to question my worth as a reviewer. Almost instantly, I succumbed to the throes of boredom - even before the opening credits had finished rolling - and, as the film progressed, I found myself admiring the work of both Richard Gere and Diane Lane while tapping my foot and waiting patiently for someone to hurry up and die (I should point out that I wasnít sure anyone actually would, but this being sourced from a Nicholas Sparks novel, I assumed it a pretty safe bet).

I probably sound like the most cynical of Internet voices, but itís not because I had to sit through a film Iíd normally cross the street to avoid laughing at. I was under the impression that Nights in Rodanthe couldíve been an engrossing, low-key romantic drama. I like both of the actors involved and the premise of an unexpected romance budding against the backdrop of a deserted beachfront Inn was an interesting one (although I also felt it would also be a cool location for a slasher flick, but I digress). Why then, does the film fail to ignite any genuine emotion?

Itís probably safe to start with the story. Again, Iíve never read a word written by Nicholas Sparks, but heís a respected author, complete with a hefty readership and an endless stream of bestsellers. His fiction must be far superior to the filmmakerís translation, right? I mean, you wouldnít judge the works of Stephen King based on the integrity of George Romero's The Dark Half adaptation, right? Right. So, Iím going to lump the blame squarely upon the shoulders of screenwriters Ann Peacock and John Romano for taking the main characters on the most trivial of romantic journeys while character motivation is relegated to story contrivance. Itís their blueprint that ultimately fails the cast and crew (admittedly, George Wolfe's direction is a bit too grandiose for the material - I lost count of all the crane shots), rendering the final product essentially worthless.

For example, Gereís character is a guilt-stricken doctor responsible for the death of a woman on his operating table. His stay in Rodanthe is to reconcile with the widower, but itís compartmentalized into two scenes that have little bearing on the rest of the film. Sure, it provokes a strong reaction in the Diane Lane character and helps bring the two leads closer together ñ sort of a dramatic macgufifn, I suppose - but it feels awfully cheap and manipulative.

Iíd be willing to let the film off the hook if I could leave the ëcheap and manipulativeí accusations behind, but it only gets worse, right around the end of act two, as our two leads find themselves amidst a whirlwind romance. Gere and Lane manage some nice moments together, and director George C. Wolfe incorporates the tranquil atmosphere of Rodanthe, North Carolina into the backdrop. Just when it seems like the film may be finding its footing, it stumbles, breaks both its legs and lays writhing around on the Rodanthe shore for an absolutely interminable third act.

And thatís precisely where I decided that I detested this thing. It was always more concerned with plot contrivance and audience manipulation, but itís not until act three that it reveals its true colors. Rather than crafting a quiet love story around two people who might have been each otherís salvation, the filmmakers have built a film that canít wait to yank the rug out from beneath its audience. Its climax comes out of nowhere, feeling both artificial and needlessly cruel. Yes, there is a death. Easily one of the most unnecessary plot devices Iíve ever seen. But I hesitate to blame the failure of this film entirely on act threeís nonsense. It never had a chance. It was never a character-driven film and exploring the emotions of its main characters was never a concern.

Maybe the word of Nicholas Sparks is best left cover to cover. Maybe a better script couldíve turned Nights in Rodanthe into something worthwhile. Who knows? What I do know is that this is a botch job that disappoints not only the viewer, but also the two fine actors that hopefully were well compensated for appearing in this mess.

Warner's VC-1 encode looks pretty damn good. If there's anything striking about the film packed onto the disc, it's the visual palette. The exteriors around Rodanthe look superb, with exceptional detail and a beautiful reproduction of color. The shoreline is a particularly striking contrast of deep ocean blues and tan beachlines, while the interiors of the shorehouse (where each room is of a different color scheme) are bold with detail. Skin tones look very natural as well. Warner has delivered a great looking disc for fans of the film.

And while the video is largely excellent, it's the audio that drop this disc's score by a full letter grade. Quite frankly, there's no reason for Warner to leave a TrueHD track off any disc, let alone a new release. I can assume the rationale here is that this isn't a very dynamic title and so no uncompressed audio is necessary. Truthfully, the audio here is serviceable - with front-loaded dialogue and music - but the lack of TrueHD is baffling. It's never more abundant than during the hurricane scene, but my qualm is more a matter of principle than anything else. C'mon Warner, TrueHD only when it comes to Blu-ray.

Starting with the longest feature on the disc, The Nature of Love runs about 20 minutes and features interview with the director, stars Gere and Lane and novelist Nicholas Sparks. It's not a bad little feature, delving into the attempted themes of the film (and novel). It's largely a promotional piece, nothing essential, but not bad.

You also get brief featurettes with singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris and Nicholas Sparks. Nothing terribly insightful here, but it's a notch about being a fluff piece.

Four deleted scenes that weren't going to make this film any better. Director's commentary is optional.

There's a Gavin Rossdale music video for his song Love Remains the Same. I liked this guy when he was the lead singer of Bush back in the 90's, but this is pop junk of the lowest order - and this is from a guy who finds some of Miley Cyrus's music catchy.

Warner has equipped this title with BD Live, but there's nothing terribly interesting save for trailers for some of Warner's other titles. Lastly, one of those pesky digital copies can be found on a second disc. I've yet to use a single one of these and, quiet honestly, I'd love to see this trend go away (or, at least, stop being advertised as though it's something amazing).

Matt Serafini May 4, 2009, 8:01 am