SAFE HOUSE Review

Many people will bash "Safe House" for being exactly what it promised to be. This is because they wanted more from it, they expected, with such a top notch cast, for it to deliver a little more than the standard CIA-gone rogue story. You shouldn't expect more though, simple as that. This is a February release that boasts enough talent and enough action sequences to warrant the price of admission and get you into a seat and ready for a film that doesn't let up. No, Denzel is not working again with Tony Scott, though director Daniel Espinosa would like to have you think so with his tinted film stock and contrast to color ratio a bit off. Sadly, this is no "Man on Fire" but it fits nicely in line with other recent Denzel thrillers like "The Taking of Pelham 123" and "Unstoppable". Reynolds redeems himself somewhat in the wake of two bombs and with a strong supporting cast in Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, and Vera Farmiga it is inevitable that you won't be at least entertained by the film. I'm not saying this is high art and it is nothing close to original, but it means well and it delivers on our expectations, occasionally even exceeding them. If you plan to see "Safe House" though you most likely already know this. You know what to expect and more importantly what not to. What you do get is a high octane, brutal and gritty picture that creates an aura around Denzel as being the most badass CIA agent ever. Mission accomplished.

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) prepares his safe house
for its first guess in a long time.
The set up might be the best part about the film though and despite most of it being given away in the trailer we are engaged from the first sequence where Reynolds Matt Weston and Washington's Tobin Frost are inter-cut in their proceedings leading up to their confrontation. Frost is the rogue CIA agent that has a secret meeting with a mysterious man who is of course a devious looking guy and they exchange some kind of high tech chip that contains what is no doubt some very important information. This triggers a group of strange assassins to hunt down Frost and try and extract that information from him, but we don't exactly know why. Meanwhile, Matt Weston is just a guy trying to get ahead in life and has currently been serving 12 months monitoring a safe house in South Africa. As the trailer shows you the safe house is compromised and Weston gets his chance to step up to the plate and prove himself as a real agent when he is given the task of bringing Frost in. From here it is a series of shoot outs and narrow escapes as Weston tries his best to be a serious agent without letting Frost into his mind and Denzel plays it very much like we would expect Denzel to play it as he runs around with that air of superiority that tells you he is much smarter than you are. Not that this isn't exciting and fun to watch it hints that the layers of the plot shouldn't really matter, but Espinosa keeps the narrative on track and doesn't let his gun battles run away with the story. It is not quite a cat and mouse thriller, but it contains that consistent tone that speaks to the audience and says all is not what it appears to be and though we also probably knew that from the trailer, it is nice to see the film stay so committed to being more than the average action flick.

Vera Farmiga and Sam Shepard play CIA officials who have
the fate of both Weston and Frost in their hands.
You have seen this film before, no doubt countless times, but there is a level of understanding with this film. It knows what it is and it flaunts it unabashedly. It executes its story with finesse and documents its action in the free hand, sloppy style that mimics the films environment. The straightforward, no hesitation with which Frost kills his enemies is inherently the way a sociopath might act. He is a jaded agent, one who knows his lies have become his truth and that he can hardly tell the difference anymore. He shows no hint of conscious and will do anything to get him ahead, to keep him winning. Denzel plays it perfectly. He is one of only a few actors that can truly be as charismatic and ooze appeal in a villainous role as he can playing the hero. He dominates every scene he is in and gives Reynolds, the one usually playing the charming, charismatic type a chance to play opposite his stereotype. I actually really enjoyed Reynolds performance here. Despite his obvious physical stature he is still a guy who is insecure and vulnerable to the task at hand and makes us as unsure about his chances as he probably feels. There is an unnecessary love story tacked on for Reynolds that somehow managed the to nab the final scene in the film (no spoiler there!) but despite each of these actors having to speak in dialogue that only a Hollywood action thriller would provide they still come off as likeable and honest performances that along with the great and intense fight scenes and exhilarating chase sequences escalate this to a solid action flick that sticks to its guns while doing them a little bigger than some of the other boys.

Carlos Villar (Ruben Blades) helps out his old friend
Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) in a time of need.
I really enjoyed the movie, even with seeing a late show of it and yawning before I entered the theatre I never once was given the opportunity to be bored or even consider nodding off. The audience I watched it with seemed to generally enjoy it as well, especially when Washington let his little Denzel-isms run rampart on the rest of the cast. Reynolds holds his own though despite the bite the name Tobin Frost offers, together these two more than capable actors deliver a predictable yet entertaining ride. It will certainly fulfill your need for action until we get closer to the summer months and the higher-budgeted actioners start to arrive (especially that new Bourne installment that was so strategically played before this movie). Even then it will be hard pressed to find one that has the privilege to cast someone as commanding as Washington in the lead role. I said in the beginning, that if you go in expecting what the film has promised then you will not be let down. Through the process of writing the review that remains true but I think even now I might appreciate the ferocity and blunt force the movie produces with a no apologies type mentality that forces us to confront these characters and their predicaments. Yea, this may be standard stuff but it pulls you in and doesn't let go. Its good solid action and really, would you want it to be anything else?