You cannot count me as a fan of mega-selling author Nicholas Sparks' brand of schmaltzy romance. With best-sellers like 'The Notebook' and 'Message in a Bottle' (both of which were also turned into hit movies), Sparks has become his own brand name for sort of "chick flick lit," merging old-fashioned soapy melodrama with at least a pretense of artistic ambition. Though many critics (like myself) haven't exactly swooned for Sparks hard-sell tactics, that hasn't stopped millions of readers (and moviegoers) from lapping up his recipe for sentimental weepies without remorse.
The latest Sparks novel to be turned into a film, 'Nights in Rodanthe' is utterly cliched romantic claptrap. Diane Lane stars as Adrienne, whose husband (Chris Meloni) has just left her and her two children after an affair. Aiming to retreat for a week, Adrienne takes a short-term job as manager of her friend's North Carolina bed and breakfast. Her only guest is chilly doctor Paul (Richard Gere), who is hoping to sort out his own problems, including a painful estrangement from his son (James Franco). Over the course of a week, Adrienne and Paul will juggle budding attraction and the hope of a new love with the demands of their rapidly-crumbling past lives.
Sparks penchant for over-inflated melodrama is what appears to have drawn so many to his stories, but that's precisely what turns me off to most of his work. 'Nights in Rodanthe' underlines every big emotional moment and telegraph its themes with all the hesitancy of a sledgehammer. Little of the narrative feels organic or spontaneous -- the film is so ruthlessly engineered and production designed that I felt manipulated. From the supporting cast of homespun local characters (all of whom seem to exist only to teach Adrienne and Paul big life lessons) to the wholly ridiculous "centerpiece" consummation scene set against a hurricane(!), I just could not swallow Sparks' sugary sentiment without gagging.
What makes 'Nights in Rodanthe' bearable -- and sometimes even poignant -- is the talent and chemistry of its two stars. Gere, and in particular Lane, have developed a rapport in previous pictures like 'The Cotton Club' and 'Unfaithful' that translates here into an ease and naturalness that is engaging. I was shocked at how Lane (who is aging ever-so-beautifully) was able to turn even the hokiest dialogue and character contrivances into a three-dimensional, believable human being. Without even seeming to try, she instills Adrienne with depth, pathos and great gravitas. Though Gere always seems to be sleepwalking to me lately, he too never condescends to Sparks' lesser material. Indeed, without him and Lane, 'Nights in Rodanthe' would have been nothing but art direction, curtains blowing in the wind, and big orchestral flourishes.
Undoubtedly, 'Nights in Rodanthe' will still appeal to hopeless romantics. It's also a welcome film, in that it's about love between characters over the age of 20. And it is certainly a handsomely-mounted production. Though I found George Wolfe's direction rather too enamored of itself (he never met a grand, swooping crane shot he didn't like), the film's locations and visual design are top notch. 'Nights in Rodanthe' is nothing if not pleasing to look at, and wonderfully well-acted. If only the filmmakers, and the actors, had better material to work with.
'Nights in Rodanthe' is presented in 1080p/VC-1 video (2.40:1). A quick glance at the standard DVD version shows that the Blu-ray certainly has a leg up -- though still not an absolutely exceptional presentation, the high-def delivers a very nice boost and utterly pleasing video.
The most striking aspect of 'Nights in Rodanthe's visual design is the intriguing use of deep blues, both in terms of lighting and locations. The home at the film's centerpiece is a character in and of itself, and looks like something right out of a Pottery Barn catalog. Colors here are excellent, without too much saturation and a very effective, natural look. Detail is well above the DVD, with very nice depth and fine textures easily visible even in the shadows. Only a slight flattening of contrast dulls the image. The encode is also as clean as a whistle, so all-in-all, 'Nights in Rodanthe' looks very good indeed.
Warner continues to disappoint in the audio department -- why they forgo high-res audio on even their top new release titles is a mystery. 'Nights in Rodanthe' gets the shaft here, with only a lowly Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround option (640kbps).
To be fair, 'Nights in Rodanthe' is an intimate romantic drama with little sonic fireworks. However, the lack of any fairly aggressive surrounds is a disappointment -- the film certainly could have benefited from better atmosphere. Even the music score is lamely front-heavy. The lack of high-res audio also shows itself in the perfectly ordinary sense of dynamics, with no truly deep low bass and a lack of richness and texture to the mix. Dialogue is perfectly audible and well-balanced, if again hardly noteworthy. 'Nights in Rodanthe' sounds serviceable, nothing more.
Surprisingly, Warner offered no extras on the standard DVD of 'Nights in Rodanthe.' So by default, the materials on this Blu-ray are now exclusive features. See below...
'Nights in Rodanthe' is a very perfunctory and relentlessly sentimental romantic drama. Almost all of its effectiveness lies in the appeal of its two leads, and this movie certainly would have been nothing without Diane Lane and Richard Gere. This Blu-ray is pretty nice, however, with attractive video and a good spate of supplements. Only the lack of high-res audio disappoints. If you like uber-sappy chick flicks, 'Nights in Rodanthe' is worth a rental.