Safe House Review

Safe House is an exciting, intense, and brutal action/thriller that largely benefits from the terrific performances by the two leads of Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. The film lacks a bit in the script department (which is odd considering how this script was much-hyped about 2 years ago) and as the film progresses it does draw comparisons to other spy thrillers, but the characterization/character arc and relationship between the two leads are admirable and effective, the film takes a unsettling nature as it hits hard on several occasions, and the action pieces are plenty, gritty, and competently-made. Director Daniel Espinosa takes the page out of Tony Scott’s films and the Jason Bourne movies’ with ultra gritty and static visual work to keep the energy kinetic, while also takes a page out of 1960s French New-Wave Cinema to create some unique angles, shots, and story-telling.

A rogue CIA agent who has been hiding for years, Tobin Frost (played by Denzel Washington) one day turns himself in, and he’s brought to a safe house in Johannesburg, South Africa—managed by low-level agent Matt Weston (played by Ryan Reynolds) who’s been desperate for something [anything] to happen there—for debriefing. When the safe house is attacked by a group of mercenaries, Matt finds himself on the run with Tobin, while trying to get to the bottom of who wants him killed.

SAFE HOUSE plays out like the terrific ads and trailers say: “No one is Safe.” With deception playing a factor throughout, ‘trust’ is definitely put to the test with betrayals and corruption being thrown around. There are plenty of surprises that Director Daniel Espinosa to keep the audience on edge throughout, as well as having those twists having the fullest effect possible. The film is full of jumpy moments, so prepare to flinch throughout. Many moments in the film occurs with such intricacy, so you’ll really have to watch closely to notice everything that’s going on (aka. don’t casual watch with such relaxation…you really cant anyway).

The movie breaks down to a series of fights and chase scenes, with a few character beats and a little mystery about who inside the CIA leaked the safe house location thrown in between. The action, especially the hand-to-hand combat, is raw and visceral. Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds both have a large share of action moments throughout the film, and they look as sharp as Jason Bourne. As the movie goes on, and characters become tired and wounded, the fights take on a clumsy, chaotic quality that ups the brutality.

The visuals are handled like a Tony Scott film—to the point where till the week of the release of the film I actually thought this was a Tony Scott film (I mean Scott’s main-man, Denzel is in this movie!). Well, its not…its actually Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, who’s actually handling his first English-language film. He does it well overall. There are some comparisons to other spy thrillers (with the most obvious one being the Jason Bourne movies), and in terms of Bureaucrat cynicism the script could’ve hit harder (again, which is weird considering how buzzed about this script was. But nevertheless the film is intense and the body count is high. The cinematography is very well-done, with the help of the Bourne movies’ cinematographer, Oliver Wood. The static camera-work plays well with the gritty, barbaric, and unsettling nature to the film. It especially compliments the action-sequences. The camera plays a key in the story as various shots of avoiding to display the characters’ faces (whether its showing their legs, arms—and mainly the back of their head) plays a lot on the film’s themes of ‘no one should be trusted’ and ‘no one is safe’. We are not fully knowledgeable and aware of these people’s identities, and the characters’ (as well as the audience) trust is broken throughout, therefore constantly showing the backs of the characters are parallel to the deception and the enigma.

The film plays out like a modern Western. It involves the older gunslinger (in this case, Tobin Frost) who knows what the profession does to your morals, and the younger guy (in this case, Matt Weston) who believes somehow that he can unify his ethics and his perspective on life with his profession—which is a lie. Seeing the character arc and relationship with Frost and Weston is largely admirable.

Frost is this dangerous rogue agent who’s morals have been shaken by the corruption he’s learned in the agency as his life is a journey of pain, while Weston is this young, up-and-coming agent who is largely inexperienced and just wants an opportunity to come up on agency work. Frost would normally kill someone like Weston without a doubt, but he keeps him alive because he sees something of himself in him—and as the film comes along we see Frost playing Mr. Myagi and Weston gradually becoming Frost to the point at the end we have a total evolution. It works incredibly well and the arc is something that’s done with such subtlety.

The 2 A-Lister superstars are at prime form here. Even at 57-years old, fan-favorite Denzel Washington is still at the top of his game as an action hero, commanding the screen every time he’s on-screen displaying his deceptive dark side (something that’s also charmed us in AMERICAN GANGSTER and TRAINING DAY). With a lot of memorable villains and villain names in the past like Kaiser Soze, Hannibal Lecter, and Darth Vader—add Tobin Frost to the pile. Although Denzel doesn’t have to really break as much of a sweat here like he’s done in the past, he is still extrodinary here—showing that charisma and trademark ‘Denzel Swagger’ to attract you to him even if he’s playing the villainous role. With a great career that’s spanned multiple decades, it’s ‘Safe’ to say that Denzel is a guaranteed to deliver a prime performance everytime. Ryan Reynolds holds his own, throwing his signature cocky & snarky humor aside, and displaying genuine emotion and dramatic acting chops here. You can see him as this agent-youngster who’s morals are gradually disintegrating and his emotions are breaking along with him, but he cant crack (although on many occasions you see him on the verge of fully doing so)—he’s in highly dangerous situation with worldly consequences and if he fails his life could end too. Reynolds plays his situation well, gradually evolving as his situation unfolds. It shouldn’t be surprising to see this serious side play off successfully from Reynolds, as he previously did this in prime form in 2010’s sleeper Buried, as well as displaying it in the indie The Nines, in superhero form in Green Lantern, and even in the horror film The Amityville Horror . People like to associate him with his comedic side—which he excels in at every turn—but his dramatic work is just as good. The two have decent chemistry with each other, and both acquit themselves well in some intensely-choreographed fight sequences.

Safe House is a statically executed and effective action/thriller who is elevated by its great leads and supporting cast. There are indeed flaws and there was potential for more to appear, but the camerawork and directing is effective, there’s enough surprises and brutality to keep you on-edge throughout, the intensity is pretty high, not to mention the kills and action coming plenty. The film is a jolt of deception that should entertain

Pros: Denzel Washington is such a badass. If you can be the first black head coach at some racist high school and win a state championship, escaping from the CIA is nothing.

Cons: Dear Ryan Reynolds, stop letting your hot movie gfs sleep with their shirts on. Thanks.

Rating: 8/10


1 Response to “Safe House Review”

  1. February 18, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    It’s a serviceable thriller that should satisfy those late winter cravings from action fans who haven’t seen enough bullets and fists flying onscreen. Nothing special but Reynolds and Washington make it better than it has any right to be. Good review Darius.

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