Denzel Washington gives yet another intense performance in Daniel Espinosa‘s Safe House. The film feels very much like a post-Bourne CIA spy film, with shaky cameras and over-saturated filters, but that doesn’t mean it’s a straight up copy. Safe House is predictable and familiar, but it’s an actor’s film, with guys like Washington eating up every line of dialogue. It’s a well-crafted film by an unknown director who knows how to build off of his talented group of actors.
Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is in charge of watching over a safe house. His day-to-day schedule is kind of boring, with the most action coming from a ball he throws at the wall while watching blank monitors, but that all changes when hotshot bad guy Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is transported to the safe house for interrogation. Matt’s world is launched into chaos as the safe house gets breached and he’s left with no other choice but to take Tobin and escape from harm’s way. He attempts to re-connect with leading agents David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), Catherine Linklater (Verma Farmiga) and Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepard), but things keep getting messier and messier.
It’s obvious that there is a mole in the agency, but Matt doesn’t have time to fully think things through and find out who he can really trust. On top of that, he has Tobin Frost grinding him at every chance he gets; hoping to crack Matt’s sanity and escape.
Safe House isn’t all that creative in the story department. In fact, it’s very formula in its approach, presenting the young rookie and tough veteran in ways that we’ve seen before. It also brings in the whole double-crossing thing without much of a surprise, but that’s perfectly fine because director Daniel Espinosa uses that to his advantage. He takes a simple story and makes it fun and full of action and interesting characters.
Denzel Washington will be compared to his role in Training Day and he should because he’s basically channeling that from start to finish. He’s not as extreme as his character in Training Day, but he gives off the bad ass vibes without a question. Tobin Frost isn’t all that deep though. He’s presented as the biggest bad ass of them all, and he rightfully is, but his character just sort of rides on being a tough guy until the end, where another layer is peeled back. It’s not groundbreaking or anything, but it’s fun to see Denzel take a role like this again because he totally nails it.
Ryan Reynolds plays it a little more straight-forward as Matt Weston. He’s the rookie who’s dying for his big case and when one falls in his lap he takes complete control. He’s battling off enemies both externally and internally. Reynolds handles it well, but at this point in his career something like this should come easy for him. He does a good job showing the progression of Matt, from young kid to opened-eyed agent.
Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepard continue to provide fine work, but their roles seem a little too underdeveloped. It’s quite obvious where their characters are going and you’ll either go with the flow or knock the film down a few points for lack of originality.
Safe House feels very much like a post-Bourne CIA/spy film. It uses similar quick cuts and all-over-the-place camera work, just like Paul Greengrass did in The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. There’s heavy film grain and over-saturated shots that look and feel exactly like the work of Greengrass. I personally like the style and I think its effective for this kind of film, but it’s almost starting to feel like a filming layout that directors are starting to follow. You take the layout and plug in your own actors and tweak the story until you get something that looks exactly the same, but plays out slightly different.
At least Espinosa understands that the focus needs to remain on the abilities of Washington and Reynolds and not the plot, which is far from original. It’s okay though, because there’s enough action and tension to keep you engaged, but when it’s over you’ll probably end up forgetting about the film in a few weeks.
Safe House doesn’t work that well as an intricate spy film, but it’s a competently shot action film that reminds the audience that Denzel Washington is still an A-list performer and Ryan Reynolds can do successful films that aren’t the Green Lantern. It’s a good way to kill 2 hours, but I wouldn’t hurry to catch it in theaters.
Safe House – 7.5/10