Old 02-09-2012, 10:07 PM
Daniel Espinosa's Safe House

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Safe House (2012)

There are action films that try to engage an audience by having well-developed plots and characters, and then there are action films like “Safe House,” where the filmmakers try to make it as noisy as they can in hopes of at least keeping their audience awake. It becomes a prime example of why no matter how many chases and other action sequences they may throw into the mix, they can’t even begin to make up for the more important elements.

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a safe house keeper for the CIA. He doesn’t do much besides sit around all day and answer the phone. One night, he suddenly gets word that a high-profile guest is being brought to his location. The guest is Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), an ex-CIA agent who went rogue and sold many government secrets. In the middle of his interrogation, the safe house is attacked, forcing Weston and Frost to go on the run.

While Weston doesn’t know why someone would be trying to kill Frost, we are aware that he received a top secret data file from an MI6 official, something that somebody obviously doesn’t want to get out in the open. Not only do they have the problem of being targeted by these would-be assassins, but Weston must also fulfill his duty of bringing Frost in, something Frost will try to prevent any way he can.

As “Safe House” proceeded through its nearly two-hour runtime, I found myself not really having much interest in what was happening, nor what would happen. This was primarily due to the fact that the story and characters had barely developed at all. The story puts these characters on the run with hardly a purpose in mind, and it does so without having told us much of anything about them, which is the way it continues. This will obviously not allow the audience to form a connection with any of them or care in the slightest about what’s going on.

Instead, the filmmakers decided that, instead of an engaging story, they would attempt to at least entertain the audience with nonstop chases, fights, and shootouts, and indeed, the film feels like an endless series of all three. However, instead of being entertaining, these action scenes are dull because we have no emotional stake in the people involved. To top it off, they become quite annoying, not only because of their repeated use, but because they are almost all filmed in “shaky cam” style, making it harder to tell what’s actually happening.

Speaking of annoying, this is one of those films that, for some reason, feels the need to show us the day and time several times throughout the film as though it has some kind of bearing on the plot, which, as it turns out, it doesn’t. They also feel the need to tell us where we are multiple times throughout the film, but once again, it has no bearing on the story whatsoever, so it merely feels like the film is making a poor attempt at trying to be more serious than it actually is.

It’s a shame to see great actors like Denzel Washington and Brendan Gleeson wasting their talents in a film like this where just about anyone, with or without talent, could have filled these roles and done a satisfactory job. It would be interesting to find out what attracted them to the project given the major problems with the plot and characters.

Ryan Reynolds, who has done well in the past, has lately been known for choosing some pretty bad projects, and unfortunately he has made another poor choice here. He, like his co-stars, does what he can with his role of a CIA nobody trying to show that he can deal with more important missions, but the limitations of the screenplay, by inexperienced screenwriter David Guggenheim, don’t allow him or anyone to do very much.

Hopefully “Safe House” will deter others from attempting to cover up the flaws in a film’s characters and plot with poorly done action sequences. This is pretty solid proof that that simply doesn’t work. It also goes to show that no matter how big your lead star is, it’s also not going to fix those fatal problems. Washington is an outstanding actor, but even he can only do so much to help a mess like this. 2/4 stars.
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