Safe House – Feature Review (Courier #3)

28 Mar

My first feature review. 

Grizzled, veteran thriller actor Denzel Washington and hot property Ryan Reynolds unite in Safe House, already a solid hit at the US Box Office and directed by Hollywood newcomer Daniel Espinosa. It is the Swedish director’s first English-language film, and it will be a memorable debut with the thrilling and entertaining Safe House.

Safe House follows ex-CIA agent gone rogue, Tobin Frost (Washington), as he is taken to a safe house manned by CIA rookie Matt Weston (Reynolds). Predictably, looking after your safe house guest is not easy when mercenaries are in pursuit of a prized package Frost has in his possession. Forced onto the road, Weston must take care of Frost until a new safe house can be found and Frost extracted. It is a rather typical CIA thriller plot with plenty of twists and the usual suits on the end of the phone back at the CIA HQ in Langley. Brendan Gleeson makes an appearance as one of the suits, along with the impressive Vera Farmiga and Sam Shepard but there is the feeling that their talents are wasted, as they spend most of the film answering the phone.

However, Washington – in his favoured lead role as a mean, tough action veteran – plays his part well, as does Reynolds, which is a welcome relief after last year’s disappointing Green Lantern and The Change-Up. The rogue veteran vs. rookie match-up is reminiscent of Training Day, but I don’t think Washington will win an Oscar this time around; even though both lead roles are solid, they are somewhat too simple for an actor like Washington.

The film is set in vibrant and colourful South Africa, which really is refreshing and original. With exciting chases through a township’s rooftops, the 2010 Football World Cup Final stadium and the buzzing streets of Cape Town, the film takes advantage of the location to add to the pacey, gritty realism and frantic atmosphere. The camerawork for the action scenes take a leaf straight out of the Bourne series’ book as shaky, handheld cameras return, for the better I believe, as it helps rack up the pace and makes the chases that much more exciting.

The film could have gone further by focusing more on expert manipulator Frost’s attempts to get into the mind of the rookie Weston while they are alone on the road. Throughout the film he does offer advice – such as not to have relationships in their line of work and to use better towels whilst being water-boarded – but apart from this, Frost does not really try to psychologically control his captors. Safe House certainly focuses more on the action element rather than the thriller side, to its detriment.

VERDICT: An enjoyable action/thriller let down by an average and unoriginal plot typical to most CIA and other spy-agency based films. The South African location offers improvements as do impressive performances all round. Had the scope to be much better and ‘thrilling’, but  still an impressive debut for Espinosa.


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