Directed By: Daniel Espinosa
Written By: David Guggenheim
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Robert Patrick, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson
Action is a genre that tends to go in trends. During the 80’s we had the overblown muscle bound action films like Rambo and Commando. That changed after the success of Die Hard in the late 80’s, then once again in the late 90’s with The Matrix. Lately action films have been attempting to replicate the style and tone of the Bourne series. Safe House is the latest proof of that trend. While it won’t go down as new high watermark for the genre it will serve as example of why imitation can be the best kind of flattery.
In Safe House Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a still wet behind the ears C.I.A. agent, who has been stationed at a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. I know fanboys have a lot of distain for Reynolds, especially after the outcome of Green Lantern. (Though in my opinion he had little to do with the negative result of that film) In this Reynolds has been given the straight guy role. You won’t find any type of humor or sarcasm in Reynolds performance. Weston assignment of guarding the safe house has him bored out of his mind as he does nothing but stare at walls all day. However, that all changes when one of C.I.A.’s most wanted, Tobin Frost, is caught in Cape Town and brought to his location. Frost is played ever so vigorously by Denzel Washington. While Washington’s performance is the more memorable one it’s made more effective by Reynolds. Often the straight man is under appreciated so I feel it is necessary to point out the importance of what Reynolds was doing. While the character wasn’t extremely dynamic it is his anchor to reality that gives Denzel Washington barriers to break. While watching I couldn’t help being reminded of Training Day. The relationship between characters in this film felt eerily similar.
The relationship in Safe House does begin in a lot more dire straits however. Shortly after Frost arrives at the safe house he is tortured for information. A lot was made of the fact that Denzel was actually water boarded during filming. (https://usat.ly/y9z5iU). Having that information made watching that scene quite difficult. Denzel played the entire sequence perfectly. That shows why he such a respected actor. To put that dedication into action thriller is rather incredible. After the attempt to retrieve information from Frost the safe house falls under attack. With no other choice of action Weston flees the house into the shadows of Cape Town with Frost as his prisoner. He must rely on his own skills, his superiors, and possibly even Frost to survive. Weston begins to feel pressure for all sides and he must decide how he will play the game that was forced onto him. Not surprisingly Frost makes things more difficult he is not afraid to play mind games to place a wedge between Weston and his supposedly trustworthy supervisors in Washington. With possibly no one to relay on the only certain thing for Weston is he will finally get the action and responsibility he has been longing for.
One of the biggest things Safe House has going for it is the cast is rather strong. Unfortunately the full cast was never fully utilized. Besides the two leading stars you also have Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson playing government agents working in Washington. Though I enjoy both actors their characters were one of the biggest elements that felt like a rehash from other action thrillers. While the performances are fine the actual characters were rather stereotypical. Rehashing is a common theme in Safe House. The action aesthetic the film uses feels rather familiar. The action is frenetic with a big use of shaky cam. Using that style will no doubt ignite some irritation for those who are not a fan of that type of camera work. That is not to say the action is not enjoyable. A lot of action had quite a rigid brutality to it. There were sequences where every progression in the action was earned with a raw sense of reality. However at times that dedication to that style was lost and we were left with action that felt a little more cartoonish. That unevenness haltered gritty environment that was being established.
While the action didn’t hold steady one thing that did was the performances of Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. Saying Denzel gives a great performance is nearly the equivalent of stating the movie has a title. Both are basically givens. The character he creates in this is part terrifying and part awe inspiring. While the script itself doesn’t flesh out the character all that much Denzel’s portrayal provides Frost with a personality you both fear and appreciate. There is a high confidence with the character, but there are moments when the confidence falters in quick flashes of fear and unknowing. Those moments go a long way in adding a high level of tension that would have not of been there otherwise. Reynolds is no slouch himself. Like I mentioned previously while he has the straight role he too brings a lot to his character. There was a good mixture of confidence and self-doubt with an underlying feeling of innocence. What would have been an average action thriller was without a doubt made more effective through its leading actors. That is due to the fact that the plot is rather thin and predictable. While there are twists and turns most you can see coming from the film’s onset. Though I never felt the movie was ever trying to hide its hand. It seemed rather content on telling a simple story with fun performances. In the end you’re left with a movie that is enjoyable yet forgettable. While it is a solid piece of entertainment it doesn’t go beyond being more than that. It had potential but lacked effort in a few key areas. If you go in looking for a masterpiece of action you will surely be disappointed, but if you simply want something of solid entertainment you will most likely be pleased with what you get.