A CIA safe house is a secure and secret location that can be used to conduct covert affairs, such as debriefing VIP defectors, holding informal conference calls, and interrogating high-profile suspects. It is also the basis for a new action-thriller, conveniently titled Safe House. But, as is expected, the house doesn’t stay safe for long.
In Safe House, Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a rookie CIA agent tasked with the boring job of overseeing a CIA safe house in South Africa. His world becomes much more exciting when he receives a “house guest” in the form of ex-CIA agent and traitor, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington). During Frost’s interrogation and torture by a special ops team, the safe house is infiltrated by mercenaries looking to take a very lucrative package off the man. Weston and Frost are forced to flee, spending the rest of the film with Frost trying to escape with his coveted package and Weston trying to bring him in alive.
If you have watched any action-thrillers in the past ten years, then there will be precious little in this film that will surprise you. There are plenty of plot twists and revelations in the script, but they are all telegraphed in advance and have all been in better movies. There are many scenes in CIA headquarters with the top brass–played respectively by Sam Shepard, Brendan Gleeson, and Vera Farmiga–being portrayed exactly as we’ve seen them in every other movie involving the CIA. Washington plays Frost as the tough-as-nails expert who will educate the rookie about the true ways of the CIA, in much the same fashion as several of his other films. Reynolds leaves behind the sass and swagger he’s been known for, playing Weston very much as the straight guy trying to keep it together and do the right thing. There are interesting interactions between the two men, but it never gets tense or exciting. These are all accomplished and competent actors, yet the film never lets their talent shine through.
Not helping matters are the directing, cinematography, and editing. The look of the film mimics the overblown contrast of the Tony Scott oeuvre and the wobbly, frenetic camerawork of a Paul Greengrass movie. This film is desperately attempting to ape the look and feel of a Jason Bourne action movie, thus never establishing a style of its own. Which is a shame because there are some fights scenes and chase sequences that seem like they are nicely choreographed. As least, it seemed that way when the camera was still enough for me to see the action. That said, the action did hold my attention for the duration of the film, so it did the job in some part.
Well, what are we left with? I won’t say Safe House is a bad film. It’s perfectly serviceable trash cinema for people with expendable income and looking for a way to kill a couple of hours. However, the film is too cliche-ridden and paint-by-numbers for me to recommend it to those looking for an exciting and original piece of entertainment.