Safe House Movie Review
Denzel Washington has trained hard to become an unstoppable force. His not-so-secret secret: team with a younger white dude. Training Day, costarring a perennially pale Ethan Hawke, won him an Oscar, and Unstoppable , which also starred Chris Pine, showed he can be more than just a mid-ranged box office force. Denzel's latest venture Safe House also stars Ryan Reynolds, and the results are explosive in more ways than one: it's an instant hit - one of Denzel's biggest debuts of his career - and an entertaining, fast-paced action movie.
In Safe House, Reynolds stars as Matt Weston, a low-level CIA agent who has the boring responsibility of managing a typically empty safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Things change in a heartbeat, however, when a dangerous fugitive and rogue agent named Tobin Frost (Washington) is brought into the house - and moments later the house is attacked and everyone but Weston and Frost killed. The two flee but Weston quickly learns that he can trust no one: Frost's loyalties are only to himself, and someone in the CIA is playing both sides.
Between the lines: Weston is on his own, in a country that isn't his, with a whole lot of people wanting to kill him.
Safe House is written and directed by two men you've never heard of, but their lack of pedigree isn't at all apparent. The movie is fast paced and energetic, an exciting thrill ride, the first legitimate action film of the year.
Denzel once again embodies a character painted with shades of gray, harkening back to his memorable role in Training Day. He's smooth, suave and isn't limited by right and wrong, laws or rules. He plays to his own tune.
Tobin Frost is his best role since Training Day.
You never know which way he's going to turn, which side he's going to take. He and Weston are unwitting partners, and yet they're enemies; it's Weston's job to bring the man in, and it's in Tobin's best interest to escape, no matter what it takes. They have common enemies, but they're still enemies.
It's an interesting dynamic.
To Reynolds' credit, he more than holds his own against the scene-chewing monster that is Denzel Washington. Reynolds is one of those actors who have been on the cusp of something bigger for quite a while, mainstream stardom just out of reach. Safe House shows that he doesn't need to be making snarky jokes or flirting with beautiful women to win over audiences. In fact, it shows that he may be better off without all that fluff.
There really isn't much fluff in Safe House. The action is intense and exciting, violent and bloody, but never excessively so. There's also a lot of action, too, but director Daniel Espinosa (there, now you've heard of him!) looks like he's been directing action movies for years; he sets the scenes up well, building suspense at the right times. The action scenes feel like they're a part of the story, and not added in for the sake of speeding things up.
As with so many action movies, Safe House's biggest weakness is that it's predictable. Anyone who has seen their share of spy movies will identify the villain-behind-the-curtain immediately. As fun as the movie is, the spy shenanigans that go on behind the scenes have appeared in so many other movies it's pretty sad that writer David Guggenheim (now you've heard of him, too!) couldn't come up with something even remotely original. The ending also suffers from a few minor plot holes that keep the movie from the upper echelon of the genre.
Vera Farmiga is also wasted in a throwaway role that could have so easily been more pivotal to the story.
Safe House relies on tried and true spy movie clichés, but its nonstop, well executed action and strong performances by Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds make this one film well worth the price of admission.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.