Nicholas Sparks’ The Longest Ride retreads familiar territory and utilizes the same formula that has made his previous book-to-film adaptations such as The Notebook such a success. First real love experienced by two complete strangers with very little in common? Check. An older couple whose past once mirrors what the younger couple is going through now? Check. A wealthy old man with no next of kin who wills his inheritance onto the younger couple to provide a means to their happy ending? Check. The Longest Ride transitions between two time periods as it attempts to tell two stories simultaneously – one of an older couple who met prior to World War II and another of a younger couple who experienced love for the first time after a chance encounter at a rodeo.
Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson) is a 2nd semester senior year college student with aspiration to become a museum curator someday. She looks forward to her summer internship with a prestigious art galleria in New York, which takes place in less than a month. At home in North Carolina, her friend Marcia convinces her to go watch professional bull-riding to check out the “hottest guys you have ever seen”. She reluctantly follows her friends to the rodeo and arrives just in time to catch Luke Collins’ death-defying 8-seconds ride on the back of a raging bull. As fate would have it, the lady-swooning bull-rider (Scott Eastwood) catches Sophia’s eyes. After he steps off the bull, Luke is chased by the angry beast into the direction of Sophia and her friends, where his cowboy hat flies off his head and into her arms. “Keep it” he says and this sets into motion a series of events that brings the two fated lovers together. They fall in love and learn to make sacrifices to work out their many differences in order to remain together. After all, how much in common does a city gal have with a ranch-dwelling cowboy?
Director George Tillman, Jr. makes good use of the two sets of storylines that intertwine as he frames the lives of two very different couples after their lives converge on one fateful night. Sophia and Luke encounter an elderly gentleman whose car crashed into a tree not far from the main road. They rescue the man and a basket full of letters written to “Ruth”. The man is later identified as Ira Levinson (played by Alan Alda) and “Ruth” as his late wife. Saddened and still grief-stricken after so many years, Ira has lost his will to live. Sophia is touched by how much Ira loves Ruth that she decides to pay him regular visits to read his letters to him. Each time a letter is read, we get a glimpse into Ira’s memories of his past and get transported back in time to witness love blossoming between a much younger Ira (played by Jack Huston) and Ruth (Oona Chaplin). We see a much happier time in Ira and Ruth’s life, from their initial courtship more than seventy years ago to the day they married and start life as a family. We also see the darker, gloomier days when they’re faced with hardships and obstacles that put their love to the test. But like the saying goes love conquers all, and in the end Ira and Ruth manage to overcome all of these challenges and grow old together.
Ira’s stories provide Sophia with a glimpse of hope in the midst of her troubling relationship with Luke. It inspires her to sacrifice what’s very dear to her in order to stay with him. Britt Robertson turns in an excellent performance as Sophia. The young-and-upcoming actress plays all the various facades that define her character very convincingly in the most natural way possible. When Sophia realizes her feelings for Luke as she stands in his bedroom shower catching him stealing glances of her with his back turned as he gets her a towel, we can see that there is obviously something special radiating between her and Luke just by the way she looks at him. This scene could easily come off in a wrong way if a lesser talented actress were to play it. Robertson makes it emotionally convincing for the audience due to her natural ability as an actress to control the scene. Scott Eastwood plays Luke as an ambitious bull-rider with aspiration to become the best in his trade without seeming cocky. This shows confidence and this is exactly what the role of Luke Collins requires. Scott bears a striking resemblance to his father, especially in his cowboy hat and boots which makes it hard not to conjure up images of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly among other old western films his dad has done years before.
But the best performances in this film go to Jack Huston and Oona Chaplin who play the young Ira and Ruth. Their performances carry this movie to great lengths and add so much credibility to their roles as a couple very much devoted to one another. You can tell in their eyes, especially in a room crowded with people, that in their world no one else exists. Jack Huston perfectly captures the essence of a man who wants nothing more than to make the woman he loves very happy. Oona Chaplin is remarkable in her role as a woman who struggles with her longing for the one thing she wants so much in her life but is unable to attain. We can see how her own affliction causes her husband Ira so much pain and suffering by the sadness and disappointment very well enacted by Huston himself. The excellent performances provided by both Huston and Chaplin do an outstanding job of complementing each other to make their stories as convincing as possible.
If there’s any criticism to be made about this film, it’s the cutting back and forth between the two time periods. It does make the plot seem a bit convoluted.
The Longest Ride is a good film for those wanting to see a good, touching love story. It also has one of the best and unexpected endings of all Nicholas Sparks’ films. The ending brings the story to a full circle after doing a good job of tying the two stories together.