Young CIA agent Matt Weston has a boring job. Stationed in South Africa for the past 12 months, Weston is responsible for maintaining a CIA safe house – a non-descript building that has secret rooms and high end surveillance. Weston spends most of his work days alone in the safe house trying to find ways of entertaining himself – throwing a tennis ball against a wall or calling his ‘landlord’ David Barlow (Brandan Gleeson) back at CIA headquarters in hopes that he is considered for a transfer to a more active location.
But Weston’s job and life take a turn towards more excitement when former CIA agent and wanted rogue Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) turns himself in to the US Consulate and is transferred to the safe house for interrogation. But soon after the arrival of Frost and the CIA agents assigned to his questioning, a heavily armed force infiltrates the house and an epic gun battle ensues.
Confused and confronted with a decision as to whether to stay and fight the heavier armed intruding force or to attempt to flee the attacked safe house with his prisoner Frost, Weston makes the decision to escape and this then sets off a cat and mouse game full of double crosses and car chases in the new film Safe House.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa who is making his first big budget Hollywood film, Safe House is a hide and seek thriller that gives star and producer Denzel Washington his juiciest role since 2007’s American Gangster. It’s hard to imagine another actor with equal talent that could pull off the character of Tobin Frost that is complex, mysterious, deadly and possibly self-serving at the expense of other’s lives. Washington shows that he can do more with a simple look or physical posturing than most actors can with an award winning screenplay.
Denzel’s acting is so good in fact, that it comes at the expense of his co-star Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds has proven he can hold his own in big budget films and was hardly to blame for the failure of last year’s Green Lantern or the disappointing The Change-Up. But alongside the veteran Washington, Reynolds has circles swum around him like Quint’s boat ORCA was in Spielberg’s Jaws.
Lucky for Reynolds, Safe House is more of a reacting movie than it is an acting one. There are some wonderfully choreographed action sequences that smash and bash their way onto the screen with jump scare regularity.
Robert Patrick, Sam Shepard and Vera Farmiga all play admirable CIA employees at different levels of intelligence hierarchy and their familiar and competent faces were welcomed distractions when Reynolds and Washington were not dodging heavy machine gun fire on the streets and slums of South Africa. But Weston’s love interest Ana (Nora Arnezeder) was a throw away character that does nothing to forward the story nor add depth to Reynolds’ Weston.
At an exhausting 115 minute running time, Safe House wears out its welcome by the third act. The story, which is a straight forward ‘hey, I have a secret file that will expose everyone and people at all levels of trust will do anything to retrieve it’ offered nothing new and the mole of the film can be figured out by even the most simple of audience members within the first 20-minutes of the plots unfolding.
With a familiar plot and a usual path to its conclusion, the film lives and dies by its action sequences which are generally well conceived and orchestrated. But the action is muted by the return to recognizable plot devices that will undoubtedly lull an audience into an unwelcomed sense of familiarity.
This doesn’t make Safe House terrible. But take Denzel out of the casting equation and you might just be looking at a straight to DVD release.