Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

Nicholas Sparks seems obsessed with tragic love, dooming his protagonists to witness the deaths of their lovers and cherish the memories they had together. His victim in "The Notebook" remained alive and breathing, but was dead all the same: A confused, near-silent victim of Alzheimer's who had once been a vivacious, spirited young woman. The skill of Gena Rowlands and Rachel McAdams in bringing this woman to life is essential to the believability of this at-times ludicrous tale (would a backwoods-dwelling carpenter really debate with his hayseed father the merits of Whitman and Tennyson?), but the most difficult role falls on James Garner, who effortlessly conveys his resolve and the volume of his suffering, haunted not by the spirit of his wife but by her empty body. All four leads are terrific, but Garner is in a class all by himself, in a role worthy of an Oscar nomination.

The movie around him is not too shabby, either. Robert Fraisse photographs the film in the amber hues of warm memories, and the final scene is a striking illustration of the twilight of life. The film skimps on the war scenes for budgetary reasons, but the screenplay makes them seem inconsequential anyway. The noteworthy supporting cast includes another fine turn by Joan Allen in a archetypical genre role (is there a part this woman cannot play with utter believeability?), and James Marsten demonstrates the same affable blandness that suits him in the "X-Men" series except that this film's heroine gives him what he deserves. The film's weakness is in its clich├ęs both spoken and structural, even ones that don't make sense, such as the waspy socialite mother who won't let her daughter date a poorboy even though she herself regrets leaving one. "The Notebook" doesn't transcend its genre, but it is a skillfully acted and worthwhile addition to it.

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