Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a junior level agent who plays “housekeeper” for the CIA’s primary safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. The safe house has gone unused for Weston’s entire 12-month stint. Throwing a tennis ball against the wall and practicing his French is about as much action as Weston has seen. But then, CIA makes a last minute reservation, sending a team of operatives, led by Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick), to check into Weston’s safe house with a high-valued “house guest”. Who turns out to be non other than Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington). Once upon a time, Frost was CIA’s most brilliant operative until he went off-the-grid the better part of a decade ago, selling secrets to any foreign government willing to buy. But before Kiefer and his team can extract any information from Frost, the safe house is crashed by a team heavy-hitting mercenaries, forcing Weston and his house guest on the lam.
Frost’s abrupt surrender at the American consulate, prior to the above, leaves agency brass David Barlow (Brendon Gleeson) Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepard) and Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) a bit bemused. After all, Frost isn’t just going to walk into an American consulate without good reason. Even Weston knows this. Therefore, Weston reluctantly mad-dashes it with Frost through a heart-pounding chase through downtown Cape Town with the mercs hot on their tail, whole-heartedly knowing that Frost has something up his sleeve. Throughout the rest of the movie, Weston and Frost have a heavily diluted Starling/Lecter type of relationship. Although not nearly as entertaining.
Ryan Reynolds diverges from his usual witty one-liners and actually turns-in a decent performance that is very grim and emotionally conflicted. But, all who have seen Safe House must agree, the real treat is watching Denzel school the entire cast. Not in trade crafts or in mind manipulations, but in acting. Although a few scenes featuring a close-ups of Denzel flashing that charismatic smirk; I could have swore he was about to say, “My man.” Thankfully he resisted. The Gleeson/Shepard/Farmiga supporting cast was solid as always, but nothing spectacular. Though I will say, The Killing‘s Joel Kinnamen delivered a very good performance in his limited screentime toward the end of the film. Kinnamen also starred in Daniel Espinosa‘s Easy Money; the Swedish drug-crime drama that won Espinosa this high-profiled directing gig.
Safe House screenwriter David Guggenheim didn’t incorporate the most original plot in his script. In fact, even director Daniel Espinosa employs some of the same plot devices we’ve seen in all three Bourne films and even Three Days of the Condor. Including cutaways to situation rooms with “Let’s go, people” dialogue and phone calls to Langley higher-ups desperately seeking situational protocols. Safe House also features some of the same shakey hand-cam fight and car chase sequences, which were even filmed by the Bourne DP Oliver Wood. Safe House is a spy-actioner filled with “I’ve seen this before” moments but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.
Yes, Denzel, you do.
Though it has familiar set pieces throughout, there are several things to saver. The use of hotel-industry terms translated into code phrases employed by the operatives is quite clever. The film’s most satisfying set piece involves Weston and another character wrestling on the floor, desperately grappling for weapons-ready shards of glass from the window they just went through. The other notable set piece is a nicely shot cat-and-mouse pursuit at Green Point Stadium during a soccer game.
Despite all of its flaws and cinematic redundancies, Safe House is still an exciting film with gritty fights, and breath-taking chases sequences.
Safe House is undeniably entertaining.