REVIEW – ‘Safe House’
Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) was one of the most intelligent CIA agents in history, a master manipulator whose interrogation techniques revolutionized the field and garnered him a tremendous amount of respect and admiration among his peers – until he began selling international secrets to the highest bidder, turning him into one of our nation’s most notorious traitors.
After eluding his pursuers for nearly a decade, Frost has just walked into an American consulate in South Africa, and has been transferred to a safe house under the watchful eye of young, inexperienced Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) and a handful of hardened, grizzled interrogators that want to know why Frost has suddenly reappeared. But as Frost continues to stonewall his captors while awaiting transport back to the United State, the safe house is breached by a group of heavily armed mercenaries, forcing Weston to flee the location with Frost and try to find an alternate route to safety.
Washington is at the top of his game here, bringing plenty of nuance to his multi-layered anti-hero and crafting a character that seems to blend the best parts of his performances from Training Day and American Gangster. Reynolds is no slouch himself as the young agent trying so desperately to prove himself – he has all the training, but none of the experience, which is perfectly conveyed during a vicious brawl in the film’s third act.
Safe House also benefits from an equally strong supporting cast which includes Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga as Weston’s handlers, and Sam Shepard as their superior – this trio enjoys plenty of tense dialogue exchanges throughout the film, and their contributions ensure that pacing doesn’t suffer when we move away from the action.
It’s a pity that a film with so many talented performers is crippled by such a predictable narrative. The “twist” that comes near the end will only surprise viewers who have never seen a spy thriller in their entire life – experienced audience members will spot this in the first fifteen minutes, and will spend the rest of the film wondering when the reveal will take place.
Aside from the plot’s shortcomings, I enjoyed my time with Safe House. This could’ve been a complete disaster with a different cast, but Reynolds, Washington, and the rest manage to turn a run-of-the-mill popcorn flick into something with a little more style.
Safe House is a by-the-numbers thriller that’s a bit too predictable to stand out as a great installment in the genre. Like Brent said, it relied too much on the performances of the actors to carry the film, in addition to cheap scares meant to keep the audience “on edge” – I can think of at least three times a gunshot was used out of nowhere to startle the audience, some of which might have already tuned out due to knowing exactly where the movie was headed (including the laughable “twist” near the end). Not to say the film was entirely boring or that there’s nothing redeeming here, but aside from the powerful performances from Denzel and Reynolds, the movie is pretty average and flat.