˜Safe House′, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds and directed by Daniel Espinosa, is a 2012 action thriller about a CIA agent charged with keeping track of a dangerous rogue agent with a specialty in psychological manipulation. As exciting as it may sound, the film reflects its title more than its promise of fantastic chase sequences and is too “safe.”
The plot is predictable down to the letter, and the characters are thin, formulaic caricatures of the typical spy thriller genre. This is not to say that the movie is bad, but it does follow an exact pattern laid out by a lackluster script, despite the acting chops of its main cast.
The film opens following Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) in Cape Town, South Africa as he meets with a shady ex-CIA operative to receive an encrypted file. Frost makes the drop, injects the file capsule into his skin for safekeeping, but immediately notices he is being tailed by shadowy figures. He quickly dispatches the first handful of agents and makes a run for it, but he is outnumbered, so he walks into an American consulate.
Since he is a wanted criminal, the CIA is immediately notified that he has been sighted, and they instruct the consulate to escort him to the nearest safe house, which is a facility designed to keep wanted criminals and important informants secure before they are moved to more permanent residences.
Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is in charge of the designated safe house and has been for a year. He is introduced in a parallel shot during the beginning sequence as anxious to leave the safe house because of the boring nature of his job and his impatience to be with his girlfriend, Ana (Nora Arnezeder). Frost is taken in by a team assigned by Matt′s bosses, Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) and David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson).
The commander of the extraction team begins brutally waterboarding Frost to find out why he willingly surrendered himself to the authorities. Matt watches in horror until the men who had been chasing Frost at the beginning of the film kick in the front door. The entire CIA extraction team is killed, and Matt is forced to take Frost out of the safe house and to another location, as the CIA scrambles to get another team to Cape Town to help.
In the meantime, Matt deals with Frost′s methods of manipulation as he tries to make Matt doubt the loyalty of his superiors. The cinematography of the film is divided between intense close-ups that drive home the pain and intensity of the interactions between Matt and Frost and shaky camera shots of the car chases and fight scenes.
While this does work to create an air of danger, it does detract from the enjoyment of the fight choreography because it is difficult to keep track of who is hitting whom with the camera′s jittery movements. Establishing shots of the city are well done and keep the audience current with their surroundings, but there is nothing special about it.
Reynolds and Washington both turn in rather average performances, which could be due to a plain script with no surprises. Washington′s portrayal of Frost weaves between a cold-blooded killer manipulating a young man and a regretful former agent who wants to expose the truth as payment for his past crimes.
Reynolds′ portrayal of Matt begins as a naÃ¯ve agent eager to escape his boring circumstances and shifts to an on-edge man who realizes the people he works for are not who they seem. It is kept clear that Frost has the upperhand at all times, and Matt is scrambling to catch up with him, but their relationship does not congeal as well as one would hope.
Frost blatantly admits that he used to be Matt, and by the end of the film, he advises him to be better than he used to be. There is no subtlety about the similarities the two share, and that perhaps is what makes the film so average. Neither man goes through an extraordinary change by the end. They are tweaked somewhat, but since they have thin characterization, the audience does not get the chance to connect with them before the end credits.
The biggest detractor of the film are the clichÃ©s riddled throughout the plot from start to finish. Any seasoned moviegoer can guess each sequence of events from scene to scene, and it does not miss a step. Even the twist in the third act comes as no surprise. While in the theater, no one in the seats near me jumped when it happened because everyone saw it coming.
The predictable nature of the plot sucks most of the tension out of the fight scenes, though they are excellently handled. Thus, ˜Safe House′ is nothing more than the typical action spy thriller with almost nothing unique about it. Not good, but not bad, simply average and ultimately safe.
OVERALL GRADE: 2/5
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