Safe House – 2012
Directed by Daniel Espinosa
Starring Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard, Rubén Blades, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham
Screenplay by David Guggenheim
“I need to find out who this Matt Weston is right now…” is a demand made by CIA Deputy Director Harlan Whitford. This after the safe house in which Weston (Ryan Reynolds in doe-eyed mode) and rogue agent Tobin Frost (Washington) resides is blown apart by the bad guys, with everyone in it except themselves, shot all to hell. It would seem that since Weston has been a low-level agent for years, it would not be too hard to figure out his history or credentials.
Frost, who’s been “off the grid” for many years is wanted for “espionage” in several countries. He’s involved with some junk at the beginning of the film that gives us a sense of ambiguity as to his intentions, but when he surrenders himself to the American consulate in Cape Town, we’re pretty sure he’s a good bad guy. He’s only had one Training Day, after all. Even in the trailer one can tell this is another role that will likely trade on that performance.
Back at headquarters, we have Agents Barlow (Gleeson) and Linklater (Farmiga). Previous experience with both actors and the Bourne movies gives us a decent idea which of them is the turncoat. No need to get into that now, though, there are still plenty of budget dollars to blow sky-high.
Safe House is, essentially, a chase movie showing you many of the sights of Cape Town South Africa. It is a beautiful city, and Reynolds and Washington are beautiful people. What could be wrong about letting the tape roll a while?
Washington has reached the point in his career where he can afford to make decent action films that, without his participation would be substandard. Reynolds is one of many young bucks who have seen themselves opposite Washington in recent years, learning the ropes dramatically, through much risk to themselves and others.
The key phrase Weston picks up from Frost is “You’ve done a fine job. We’ll take it from here.” After he hears someone in the CIA say this, Weston knows he is going to be spending more time running for his life. He immediately goes to his girlfriend and confesses that he has been lying to her about his job, and has her take off to Johannesburg. After some angry “you lied to me” slapping, they go their seperate ways.
Frost, meanwhile, goes about solving his dilemma in the bowels of Cape Town. The chemistry between Reynolds and Washington is aided by the fact that the script demands that they spend crucial time apart, in order for Weston to develop on his own. Washington is the equivalent of John Wayne, Toshiro Mifune or Harrison Ford by now: a finished product that requires only the slightest tweak to make the plot slightly more interesting.
Safe House will be enjoyable to most people who demand that their movies be loud, predictable and the good guys win, with an acceptable amount of loss. It’s conventional, sure, and Denzel could do more challenging stuff, but what the hell.
(***1/2 out of *****)