I went into Safe House with very low expectations. The trailer made it look like another pick from this year’s crop of ‘70s wannabe films (Contraband, Man on a Ledge, Haywire) and after the disgraceful Green Lantern, I had no hope for Ryan Reynolds in a non-comedy role ever again. To my surprise, and largely due to Denzel Washington’s performance, the film is a solid action-thriller that is one helluva gritty ride.
Matt Weston (Reynolds) is a young CIA agent assigned as the “housekeeper” of a safe house in South Africa. For the last 12 months he’s been alone with not much to do. He’s bored and eager to get reassigned and spends his days pacing around the house dreaming of bigger things. Then Tobin Frost (Washington), a former CIA agent turned fugitive, is brought to the house for interrogation. The house is compromised and all hell breaks loose. Weston does his job and gets Frost out of the attack and into safety only to find out that things aren’t quite what they seem.
While David Guggenheim’s script for Safe House is nothing we haven’t seen before, this is first and foremost an action film and it goes beyond the call of duty when it comes to keeping the audience’s adrenaline pumping. There’s a wicked car chase scene and many excellent and powerful shootouts. What sets these scenes apart from other films in this genre, and makes them work so well, is the wild handheld camera work from cinematographer Oliver Wood. I’ve heard complaints about this style, but I felt it ramped the anxiety level up tenfold and helped deliver a better experience.
As I mentioned above, Washington’s performance was one of the best things about the film and it kept me intrigued throughout. There’s something about him as this character and you can never quite tell if he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. He’s having fun with the role and it’s nice to see this side of him for a change. Reynolds is good and I almost forgive him for Green Lantern. He’s not great though, and I couldn’t help think how someone like Tom Hardy might have a been a better fit for the part.
Director Daniel Espinosa shows potential with Safe House and his Hollywood career should be set in motion now. Put him on a Jason Statham film or something starring The Rock, and who knows what might come out of it. Either way, I’m excited to see what he does next.
Safe House is not going to win any awards or make it on any Top 10 lists next year, but if you’re looking for something to check your brain and be entertained by for two hours, it’s a great watch.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa
Top image: A scene from Safe House. Courtesy Universal Pictures.