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Second chance for childhood sweethearts

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The Best of Me (12a)
Running time 117 minutes

Going back to the town of your childhood, 20 years after you grassed your family up to the cops and dumped your girlfriend to boot, is not a recipe for being voted ‘most popular man on the block’. And predictably, in The Best of Me, the returnee is tailgated at a level crossing, shot at, and, worst of all, given a real grilling over hot coals by the girlfriend, who really, REALLY, wants to know why she was dumped. Since the film is meant to be a romance, you can guess that the outcome is heavy on the sentiment and light on the violence, but even the most psychic of cinemagoers will not see the final – and fairly silly – twist in the tale of how true hearts win through (there is a clue there). Dawson Cole, played as a young man by Luke Bracey and as an older man by James Marsden, is the son of a Louisiana backwoods good ol’ boy who is into drink, messy kitchens and casual psychotic violence. He’s trying to escape the bosom of this hellish family, and spies nice-looking Amanda, daughter of another Louisiana backwoods good ol’ boy, this one being into money, drink, and forgetting his origins. Luke believes here may lie his escape route. Amanda (played as a teen by Liano Liberato and as a woman by Michelle Monaghan) is keen on the idea, liking the look of young Dawson’s impeccable pecs. They are helped out by Tuck, an old grandpa type, who gives young Dawson shelter. Twenty years later, he goes further and leaves his summer property to both of them in his will, hoping to mend the breach caused by trouble finding Dawson which then lands him outside the law. Seasoned cinemagoers can readily see there is plenty of potential here for high levels of handkerchief usage, high powered emotion, and lots of declamatory statements aimed into the middle distance. But even with two good actors, solid supporting casts (Tuck played by Gerald McRaney and Pop Dawson played by Sean Bridger), the whole thing fails to ignite as a story and therefore as a film. It doesn’t help that the two Dawsons are physically quite different – when you see the older one, you wonder if there has been six inches of amputation and a whole head transplant somewhere, and the ending is just laughable, even though it may have looked good on the screenplay page. The main problem though is that when the older Dawson and Amanda get together again, it looks as if she really does not like him and even during the toned-down lovemaking (it is a 12a) you suspect she still hasn’t forgiven him at all and is just waiting for her moment to exact revenge. Still, the countryside is nice – although I wouldn’t swim in a bayou with so many big biting things about – and the flowers in the gardens are wonderful.

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