Depending on your cinema modus operandi, Safe House is either an intriguing chemistry experiment between one of Hollywood’s best actors and a still up-and-coming one. Or it serves as a re-hashed, well-worn story of a government operative that may or may not be a villain. A complete combo package is not a choice.
Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) runs a rarely used CIA safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Bored out of his mind and desperate to be reassigned to someplace more exciting, Weston suddenly receives the high-profile fugitive Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington). Frost is an ex-CIA operative who now sells national secrets to the highest bidder and who has turned himself in to the U.S. Embassy to escape unknown attackers desperate to gain information he possesses. When CIA agents begin to debrief Frost with some tough water torture, the same attackers break into the safe house and kill everyone but Westin and Frost who make a dramatic escape. Westin must now deliver Frost to the CIA while protecting him from the bad guys and, at the same time, prevent him from escaping. It all leads to high-speed chases with bullet-ridden bodies left in the wake.
While the action scenes are plentiful, and well choreographed, they are far better suited for a Nicholas Cage project. In films like Training Day and American Gangster Denzel’s characters are front and center with the violence playing as accompaniment. His riveting performances have pushed the bar higher for the films he stars in. In Safe House, the action is a means to an end with a journey that is hackneyed and expected.
Denzel does have his moments to let loose. Frost’s bravado during his torture, for example, is classic Denzel. And his continual badgering of the rookie Weston makes for some great give and take, something in which both Denzel and his character are darn good at. Just as impressively, Reynolds keeps up with him. As Westin, he is torn in a variety of directions as he suspects that someone within the agency is jeopardizing his duty. Reynolds demonstrates his command of the part and appears to up his game to compliment Denzel, though that star-caliber role in an award-caliber film still eludes him.
Unfortunately, Safe House just becomes too predictable, despite the casting of (and wasting of) three great talents: Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga and Sam Shepard as the CIA veterans. Apparently, you can’t have everything.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writer: David Guggenheim
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard
Release Date: Feb. 10, 2012