“Love requires sacrifice.”
Sometimes all you have to do is hear a name associated with a movie to immediately have stereotypes of what that movie will be like brought to mind. For example I hear that Michael Bay is making a new movie and think boobs and explosions. I hear M. Night Shyamalan is involved with a project then I anticipate some kind of twist (though how loose a definition of that word will be applied is the real twist for me.) And in the case of The Longest Ride when I heard it is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel I immediately thought I was going to see a movie that played out some aspect of the Romeo and Juliet tale of old. These two people were going to fall in love, have difficulties, separate, and come back together only for one of them to die tragically. And from the trailer my initial impression seemed to be the right one, with echoes of elements of other Nicholas Sparks-novels-turned-movies on display most notably The Notebook. So did that hunch play out? Well let’s find out together.
The Longest Ride is the story of Sophia (Britt Robertson, Tomorrowland), a senior art student at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Her story intertwines with that of Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood, Fury). Luke is a professional bull rider on the PBR circuit and the two star-crossed lovers meet at the Wake Forest stop the bull riders make. When Luke and Sophia first meet sparks fly but Sophia is wary of entering any kind of relationship because she’s leaving in two months to go to her new internship in New York City. However she can’t stop thinking about Luke from whom she has several missed calls since their first meeting. Sophia finally breaks down and calls him and is surprised when he wants to go out on a date instead of simply meeting for coffee or hooking up, the things she’s normally used to from guys she meets.
As the date progresses it’s clear the two are very attracted to one another however Sophia has to be truthful and admit to Luke that she is moving and isn’t sure what to do and explains that’s why she waited so long to call him back. They come from two different worlds. He’s a professional bull rider who lives with his mother (Lolita Davidovich, Good God) and is determined to become the number one ranked bull rider in the world so he can ensure their family cattle ranch stays in the family. She’s an art student poised to take on the world.
They’re on their way back to Sophia’s sorority house when they come across an accident. Pulling the driver from the wreckage the injured man is muttering about a box and sure enough Sophia looks inside the car and on the front passenger seat is a wicker box she retrieves. Once they’re at the hospital and the driver has been taken into medical care Luke and Sophia share an awkward goodbye and Sophia decides to stay at the hospital and wait for the man to awaken so she may return the box to him in person. When she opens the box she’s surprised to find it is stuffed to the brim with letters and she opens one and begins reading. When she is told she can go visit the driver of the car that’s when the film starts the bridge and the bridge is named Alan Alda (The West Wing). Here’s where it gets interesting. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say there are pieces from the formula of what we expect from a Nicholas Sparks-novel-turned-movie at work here.
The Longest Ride is really two love stories which span across time and are tied together by Alan Alda. He plays the driver of the car Ira Levinson and the box is filled with letters he wrote to his wife Ruth. He hasn’t been able to read them due to his deteriorating eyesight for years and Sophia offers to sit with him and read some. As Sophia begins to read her voice transitions into Alan Alda’s and it is his narration which forms the bridge between the two stories separated by time. Of course it wouldn’t make much sense for the young Ira (Jack Huston, Boardwalk Empire) and Ruth (Oona Chaplin, Game of Thrones) to have a story so far away from Sophia and Luke’s own story so there are very obvious parallels between the two couples. There’s a devotion to fleshing out both couples’ stories which helps account for the over 2 hour run time of the movie.
But the cast is very engaging so you don’t really feel the time passing. I’ve been a fan of the young Robertson for a while now, having watched her in Life Unexpected as well as The Secret Circle. Eastwood is a new face to me but I feel like he shows some real chops here, worthy of his lineage (he’s the son of legendary actor/director Clint Eastwood). Huston reminds me of a young Andy Garcia circa The Godfather: Part III and he plays very well off Chaplin, who I enjoy here a lot as well as on Game of Thrones. Davidovich has a nice on-screen relationship with Eastwood, grounding his mother and keeping her from becoming the overly emotional stereotype she quite easily could have been. And of course Alda is wonderful. He’s got such range and while he doesn’t have a huge character arc here his ability to connect us with the emotional through-lines for young Ira and Ruth’s story helps authenticate the movie’s emotional resonance.
There was a lot of very well done camera work involved in shooting The Longest Ride. The world of professional bull riding is action packed to say the least and those 8 seconds can pass in the blink of an eye or feel like an eternity and the camera work is crafted to evoke one of those two feelings. There are some very lovely slow motion shots of the bulls in particular, with the animal’s grace and movement quite literally on display. On the other hand there are also handheld moments which are thankfully only mere moments because any longer than moments at a time would take the viewer out of the experience. As it stands these handheld moments are visceral, getting your heart pumping like you’ve been given a shot of adrenaline. I really appreciated the way the bull riding aspect of the story wasn’t brushed aside and only something that we knew Luke did. Instead we get to actually see and understand more about the sport than we might in a lesser movie. In the same vein I also appreciate how the art which drives Sophia and Ruth’s stories is not overwhelming but rather presented as a source of joy and wonder for both characters so that their stories aren’t lectures but rather discoveries.
I liked The Longest Ride a whole lot more than I thought I was going to, honestly. I credit the writing first of all and the acting is definitely what kept me engaged. The chemistry between Robertson and Eastwood as well as between Huston and Chaplin is palpable. An unexpected yet welcome chemistry also exists between Alda and Robertson. There’s a sweetness to their interactions that really comes across.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the technical specifications I’ve already talked about the visuals and how much I appreciate the deliberation put into the choices made, now I want to take a moment and talk about the music because it too was very deliberate. I’ve already mentioned how Alda’s narration forms the bridge between the present and the past however his narration is supported very strongly by the music in the film. The soundtrack helps us seamlessly weave between these two time periods and specific songs are used to punctuate emotional moments very well. Where we have scenes of action we always have music that helps connect the viewer. It’s a very thoughtful score and I definitely noticed that whereas in other films I couldn’t tell you what kind of music was being played in the background. Sometimes the music works on a subconscious level beautifully but in this instance I enjoyed having my attention brought to the music and it definitely added a level to my enjoyment of the film overall.
The technical specs are above par for what the movie requires; you definitely don’t need to see this on Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 aspect ratio video transfer is very natural feeling with an earthy palette in keeping with the literal earth that makes up a lot of the bull riding scenes. The audio is an almost over-the-top DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. It’s saved from being more than the space needs by the extra Foley work thrown in there especially for the bulls.
In terms of special features we have deleted scenes, extended scenes, a digital copy of the movie, the theatrical trailer, a photo gallery, and lots of featurettes.
The one caveat I’ll offer is that this is a romance first and foremost meaning coincidences will pop up. But that’s par for the course and something I expected so it didn’t really bother me aside from being able to predict when they would occur. However I know it’s a pet peeve for some people so I thought it wise to mention.