It’s hard to do something new in romance. This isn’t so much new as fresh and nicely executed with some interesting solutions to challenging problems. There are three main characters in this film that drive it forward and give it substance.
Blake Lively (Gossip Girl) is the core of this film and she carries it well. She is strong, but not without emotion, smart, but not without the self-awareness of how to apply her wits. You believe this woman has lived a very long time and has learned how to navigate a world treacherous for her on two levels.
Michael Huisman, as her love interest, makes you believe in him and his attraction for her from his first moment on screen. I wish he had as much presence in his current gig on Game of Thrones; it could save the role for me there.
The third main character is Hugh Ross, who steps out of the editing booth again, as he did for The Assassination of Jessie James, to voice the narrator. He has a wonderful voice and way about him and very much becomes a part of the century-spanning tale. In truth, a bit less information may have made the rest of the story a little more surprising as well, but it still worked.
And the narrator brings up some of the challenges of this story penned by writers Goodloe (Pride) and Paskowitz. In order for the story to work, they have to explain… a lot. It works, but you have to wonder who this voice is, which also is problematic by the end. The story, as a whole, is also very compressed, with both difficulties and scope of experience somewhat curtailed. But, in their favor, there is a lot of implied life and aspects in the script as well; they managed to build a complicated scaffold to support the story they wanted.
In the smaller roles, Ellen Burstyn (Interstellar) continues to prove she has amazing chops. Her role is deceptively and subtly played. There is just enough of her to make it work. She is utterly gracious with Lively on screen, never stealing the moments, though she easily could.
Harrison Ford (The Expendables 3) and Kathy Baker (Saving Mr. Banks) offer up some important aspects to the plot, but are very much in the background as a mirror rather than participants. Ford delivers the necessary bits well, but it is also over-simplified emotionally in many respects.
Director Krieger (Celeste & Jesse Forever) had clear vision and solid control over a much more experienced cast. This story could easily have become a Lifetime Channel event or a boring rehash of recognizable ground. Instead, he embraced the emotions and the challenge of telling the story to make it into something a bit more. It is, if nothing else, a fabulous bit of reel for Lively, who impressed me greatly with her range and control.