Safe House

21 Feb

Title: Safe House
Year: 2012
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writer: David Guggenheim
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Rubén Blades, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham, Joel Kinnaman
MPAA Rating: R, strong violence throughout and some language
Runtime: 115 min
IMDb Rating: 7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 53%
Metacritic: 52

Denzel Washington is one really cool dude, I think that’s common knowledge by now. He’s a two-time Oscar-winner with a screen presence that’s really tough to rival and that usually makes for seriously solid films in which you leave thoroughly impressed with the man. Just look at some of the stuff he’s done: Glory, Malcolm X, Philadelphia, The Hurricane, Training Day, Antwone Fisher, Man on Fire, Inside Man, American Gangster. Those are all very good films and that have Mr. Washington front and center of them, delivering like crazy.

Safe House sees him partnering up with Ryan Reynolds, and both of them are actually very good in this film. The thing is, as cool as the banter that develops between these two is to witness, and they both really do give strong performances, the film doesn’t live up to the promise presented by that thanks to a seriously weak script and action sequences that don’t really get much going at all. So yeah, the story is absolutely nothing new, and the film goes at it like clockwork with the requisite fights and shoot-outs, but it’s still Denzel Washington as the lead, and the guy’s as infinitely cool as always, and the film is worth a watch for that alone in my opinion. You know what you’re going to get with this guy, and even if the quality of the films may vary, he always brings it.

Mr. Washington plays Tobin Frost in this one, a mysterious former CIA operative who’s been a dangerous renegade on the run for the past decade until he pops back up on the grid, surrenders himself to a US embassy to escape from people who want him dead and is subsequently sent to a CIA safe house in South Africa guarded by Matt Weston, the low-level agent played by Mr. Reynolds. A mercenary who’s after Frost attacks the house though, and only Weston manages to leave with the captured Frost now becoming his ally against a common enemy. With the help of his CIA mentor, played by Brendan Gleeson, and a female operative, played by the lovely Vera Farmiga, we get Weston trying to survive and getting into an intricate puzzle.

The film is always very busy, and director Daniel Espinosa actually manages to keep it all under check, juggling a lot of scenes at the same time but always keeping some sense of narrative and visual coherence even when the film starts shifting locations like crazy; having Richard Pearson, the editor of The Bourne Supremacy and United 93, certainly helped quite a lot to achieve that. But while Safe House is certainly a film that’s very well-made, it just doesn’t count with the script to fall back on, unfortunately, as screenwriter David Guggenheim, who made his feature debut with this screenplay, was certainly trying to give this one some kind of political edge but who ended up giving us stuff we had seen way too many times before and resorted to pretty brutal violence one too many times for my liking.

So really Safe House doesn’t have all that much going for it, but the fact that it has such a great cast makes it seem like so much more than it is, and it made me actually like it a fair bit as well. The screenplay tries to make out Frost as a mysterious man, it wants you to try to figure out how he became what he is now, but if you do it’s all because of Mr. Washington and what he brings to the role, not because of the screenplay, every frame he’s in is immediately much more important than it otherwise would have been. Ditto for Mr. Reynolds, who actually surprised me here; he was poised to become a big A-lister but after his superhero vehicle failed last year it seemed a bit difficult to see how he’d end up, and here he bounces back really nicely though, going toe-to-toe with Mr. Washington every step of the way. Also, having Mr. Gleeson and Ms. Farmiga, two very good actors, playing the guys at the CIA base gives a lot of gravitas to roles that usually would have been inconsequential.

The action sequences, however, just didn’t do it for me, I don’t know why. The editor like I said was the man behind The Bourne Supremacy which had insanely awesome action set pieces, and even the cinematographer, Oliver Wood, was also the guy behind all of the Bourne films (so you know what this film was aspiring to be like), but I didn’t get into the action bits as much as I would have liked. There are a lot them, big ones in big spaces and tight ones in tight spaces shot in close-up, but even if the many switches from scene to scene were visually coherent to me, the same can’t be said about the action sequences.

Go see Safe House though, it’s not an awesome film and the action sequences are over-the-top and not done all that well, but everything else just falls into place. Granted, it’s because you have Denzel Washington anchoring an otherwise rather crappy script and providing a sense of calm in the frantic action sequences, but all that matters is that he made it work, as did the rest of the cast. In a film that’s supposedly all about the action, it was the performances that elevated it to something worth your time and money.

Grade: B

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