Review: Safe House
PLOT: A notorious CIA turncoat, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) re-emerges as a hunted man in South Africa. He turns himself into the American Embassy, and is taken to a safe house operated by junior CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds). Within moments of his arrival, the team guarding Frost is slaughtered in a surprise attack, and Weston is forced to flee with Frost as his prisoner, with the directive to keep him alive for eighteen hours, at which time he'll be extracted from another safe house. But can Weston hold on to the wiley Frost, who has an agenda of his own?
REVIEW: SAFE HOUSE has all the ingredients for a cracker-jack thriller. It has the cool premise, a promising new director at the helm (Daniel Espinosa- director of the Swedish hit EASY MONEY), and two big stars in the lead roles. Sure enough, the end result is a slick ride, with enough entertainment value to make it well worth the price of admission- but I couldn't help but feel the film was strangely inert at times.
Maybe this has to do with the fact that, in a way, SAFE HOUSE is too familiar. Firstly, it's very reminiscent of TRAINING DAY, with Washington playing another veteran anti-hero, teamed with a noble younger guy- who gets taken on the ride of his life, although instead of the gang wars of South Central L.A, we get the cloak and dagger espionage tactics of the CIA- with most of South Africa being turned into a war zone for our two leads. It also owes a heck of a lot to 3:10 TO YUMA (both the remake and the original) with the fact that the hero has to deliver his unwilling, but charismatic captive to the authorities, while being hunted by a vast opposition.
Where SAFE HOUSE really goes wrong is in the two-hander aspect, with Denzel Washington absolutely making mincemeat of Ryan Reynolds on-screen. Early on, we see Reynolds bouncing a baseball against a wall, which I suppose was supposed to make us view him as Steve McQueen-ish figure, but that type of vibe really doesn't suit Reynolds, who's maybe too nice for the role. Someone tougher, and perhaps older and more threatening was needed for the part. I don't buy the whole babe-in-the-woods act that we're supposed to swallow here, as the guy is after all a CIA agent that's running a safe house in South Africa. Certainly he should be a bit more formidable? Someone like Mark Wahlberg (or an outside-the-box casting idea like Oscar Issac or Liev Schreiber) was really needed here, and while Reynolds acquits himself nicely in the action scenes (of which there are a lot) every time the focus is shifted away from Denzel and on to Reynolds, the film grinds to a halt- and I say this as someone who truly likes Reynolds as an actor. It's just miscasting.
Otherwise though, SAFE HOUSE is a decent enough film, although it's predictable as heck. After a while, the twists get more than a little goofy (if one were to take a shot anytime a character is taken out by a surprise off-screen gunshot by someone who's just now being revealed as a traitor, you certainly would be unable to drive home from the theatre after), and become tedious. The supporting cast is also totally wasted, with Vera Farmiga only around to deliver exposition, and Brendan Gleeson not getting much to do either- which is a huge waste.
However, as far as action goes, SAFE HOUSE delivers, although you can expect lots of shaky-cam, and BOURNE-like close-cutting in the numerous hand-to-hand brawls. There's a nifty car chase early on, and some pretty good shootouts, including a well-executed one in a Cape Town shanty-town, even if the camera is a tad busy throughout. Espinosa has certainly made a slick, Hollywood thriller, although it maybe owes a little too much to the films of Tony Scott and Paul Greengrass to be able to peg him as a guy who brings something new to the table. That said, it's polished, despite the pace lagging in the last twenty minutes or so.
Overall, I have to give SAFE HOUSE a decent grade, as it's certainly a pretty good film, and worth checking out if this is your thing. It just feels like it could have been better than it was if the screenplay was a little less by-the-numbers, and if more work had been done on Reynolds' character. Still, for what it is, it's pretty good.
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|Extra Tidbit:||The film ends with the bad-ass Kanye West/ Jay-Z track, 'No Church in the Wild'. Aww yeah.|