Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Vera
Farmiga, Robert Patrick, Nora Arnezeder, Liam
Cunningham, Joel Kinnaman, Ruben Blades
With frequent action beats dispersed across the film to
distract you from predictable plot points, Safe House reminds
you that the destination doesnít always matter if you can
appreciate the journey. Itís not that Swedish director Daniel
Espinosa made a bad film. Itís that the elements carrying the
viewer from prologue to conclusion all feel immensely
Safe House, like the Bourne franchise before it Ė with bits of
the dreadful Salt and The Recruit secret-agent flicks
sprinkled in Ė centers upon corrupt intelligence officials and
the well-trained but unlikely heroes uniting to expose the
Doe-eyed rookie Matt Weston, played very well by the evolving
Ryan Reynolds, is a bright but inexperienced CIA
ďhousekeeper,Ē pining for a new assignment with more action.
And thatís when the elusive ex-CIA operative Tobin Frost falls
into his lap Ė only after snapping a neck and evading an
elaborate assassination attempt, of course.
It was, however, too literal and hackneyed for Frost to be
portrayed with so much of Denzel Washingtonís natural cool.
Despite his powerful presence, Washington is caricaturizing
his former roles. Itís a recognizable blend of Man on Fireís
Creasy and Training Dayís Alonzo Harris. That doesnít mean
that it doesnít work, but itís becoming increasingly difficult
to watch a Denzel Washington movie without seeing Denzel
Once Weston and Frost are brought together, Espinosa sends us
through a series of gun battles, high-speed chases, extremely
tight shots of hand-to-hand combat, and CIA situation room
briefings shoehorned into the movie for exposition.
It worked best when Frost manipulated his situation at a
crowded soccer match to manage an escape from Weston. But the
film was at its worse when the usually strong Vera Farmiga
phoned in her performance as an unreasonably stubborn and
illogical intelligence officer.
The problem here is that the film foreshadows with a vivid
spotlight. All the red herrings are immensely transparent
while Frostís actual motives are shrouded in secrecy. His
revelation as the film climaxes falls flat because the film
tiptoes around showing us the rogue, international criminal
everyone says he is.
This is particularly troublesome because the information heís
hoping to expose completely contradicts the nature of the
character. Itís implied that heís used his skills to profit
for nearly a decade, yet the conclusion suggests a noble
motive. Itís not believable and borders lazy.
When Jason Bourne becomes Pretty Woman, weíre left watching
formulaic romantic comedies for men, masquerading as
spy-driven action thrillers. Gone is the wit that carries the
James Bond franchise, replaced by convoluted twists for the
sake of a twist. Itís like Kate Hudson or Jennifer Lopez
looking for love in their movies, except weíre given assault
rifles and betrayal instead of roses and ice cream pints.
That doesnít suggest that itís always dreadful, or even
unwatchable. Safe House succeeds because the leading men are
two of the most charismatic actors working today. You just
have to appreciate the scenic route.