The Longest Ride

by Jake Mulligan

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday April 10, 2015

Scott Eastwood stars in 'The Longest Ride'
Scott Eastwood stars in 'The Longest Ride'  (Source:Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

The first thing that Luke Collins mounts is a bull. Director George Tillman stresses -- or fetishizes -- actor Scott Eastwood's physical details in extreme close-ups. We linger on his gloved hands, his rippled shoulders, and his ice-water eyes. It's a full minute before we see his full figure, and even then it's in disorienting motion: The bull bucks Luke onto his head, and we jump forward a year, to when he's just returning from the injury. "The Longest Ride" tells a romance narrative, but the relationship isn't the primary focus. This is a movie about a body.

The next time we see Luke ride, student Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson) is watching him, too. He falls near her seat, and ends up giving her his hat. She takes a long look at his abs and gives him her heart. Now Luke's working to mount both a comeback and a college girl. The latter goal is fulfilled rather easily: By the time he tells her he'd rather take her out on a "real date" than go out for coffee, all resistance is futile. He ends up taking Sophia out on the perfect picnic, and even saves a man's life (he's played by Alan Alda) on the ride home. Who wouldn't fall in love with this guy? He's John Wayne by way of an underwear model.

When Sophia calls him, we get to observe Luke in his natural habitat. Sporting jeans and a too-tight T-shirt, he's loading logs into the back of a flatbed truck. He looks like he's posing for the cover of a Nicholas Sparks novel, which is appropriate enough, because "Longest Ride" actually is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel of the same title. All of the author's trademarks are accounted for: Multi-generational frame stories (Alda recalls the courtship of his late wife by way of sepia-toned flashbacks), long-distance love affairs (Sophia has to choose between farmboy Luke and an NYC-based internship), and an unwavering commitment to the concept that love conquers all.

Most filmmakers take Sparks' material as an invitation to amp up the sentiment, but Tillman mines the material for sex. He lets his camera linger on Luke's dreaminess in the same way Michael Bay lingers on a supermodel's ass. There's a few moments where the film even slips into slow-motion, while he's kissing Sophia, or gazing into her eyes. That visual flourish serves the same purpose it does during a sports broadcast: We're marveling at world-class technique, in the romantic arena.

For a Hollywood film in 2015 to tell a story from a female point of view is an accomplishment in and of itself. "Ride" goes a fill step further by granting that moviegoers other than heterosexual men enjoy seeing their desires indulged on-screen. At first, Sophia balks at dating Luke, because she's leaving soon anyway. What would be the point? "Those shoulders, those eyes," her roommate responds, "that's the point." Yes it is.