What do you get when you mix Denzel Washington and a young, white, rising-star actor? A hit. At least, that’s how it worked for Washington and Chris Pine in UnStoppable, and clearly, how it will work for Washington and Ryan Reynolds in Safe House.
Reynolds is Matthew Weston, a “housekeeper” for the C.I.A. Matt has spent the past 12 months looking at the four gray walls of a Cape Town, South Africa safe house, waiting to be reassigned to a real C.I.A. post. He keeps pleading with his boss, David Barlow (played by Brendan Gleeson), to be given a chance.
That chance comes in the form of Tobin Frost (Washington), one of the C.I.A.’s most wanted. From the moment Tobin is on the screen, Safe House twists and turns itself into a frenzy of car chases, gunshots and a race to find the unknown traitor.
Screenwriter David Guggenheim, whose previous credit includes a 2011 television movie called Exit Strategy, writes like a man who knows a little bit about the C.I.A. After all, Exit Strategy is another C.I.A.-operation-gone-bad story starring Ethan Hawke and Tom Sizemore.
Guggenheim pens in enough intrigue and action that it’s obvious he can write a good action film. However, there’s so much movement in his script that the plot gets lost in translation. By the time the end credits roll, one is left wondering how all of the pieces fit. That’s not to say that the story is incoherent — the gist can be gleaned — but the plot should be somewhat clean so that the audience isn’t dazed by the film’s ending.
Director Daniel Espinosa took the idea of a gritty film and ran with it ad nauseum. The gray-toned cinematography is too much. The death toll of innocent people getting shot is dizzying. The car chases and car accidents are so death defying they defy the laws of life and limb. Clearly, Espinosa, whose first big budget film is Safe House, set out to make the ultimate action film. He got the action part down a little too well.
Washington is charismatic as the rogue C.I.A. operative, Tobin. From the beginning of the film, it’s established that Washington is a man doing things for the wrong reasons, but because Washington makes Tobin so likable, you lean toward forgiving him for doing things like snapping a man’s neck with his bare hands or causing an innocent man to be shot to death.
Reynolds tries very hard not to be his usual comedic self. For the most part he succeeds. But how am I supposed to believe that Matt is a true operative if he cries at every sign of trouble? As a lean, mean fighting machine in an action film, there’s no room for tears.
Gleeson, best known for his Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody character in the Harry Potter series, brings that same shifty eye to his Barlow. Barlow comes off as the reassuring mentor and slowly gives way to his sleazeball nature. It’s subtle, yet unmistakable. And once it’s known, looking at him makes you feel dirty.
Vera Farmiga also stars as Catherine Linklater, a top C.I.A. manager. Guggenheim leads the audience to distrust Linklater in an attempt that on the surface seems to be for the sake of the plot. The only woman in the film in a position of power and she’s made to look like a fool. The feminist side of this critic is offended.
Sloppy ending and way too many action shots aside, Safe House is a decent film. It’s an original script that brought many people to the movie
theaters. This is a statement to Hollywood, which keeps shoving sequels, remakes, and superheroes at audiences.
Although Safe House probably won’t be the best action film of 2012, it is a welcome addition to the 2012 library. And of course Washington obviously was one of the main attractions. What can I say? We love our Denzel.
Photo: COURTESY OF AllMoviePhoto.com
‘SAFE HOUSE’: Denzel’s Washington’s back in proverbial action-packed thriller.