Mar 7 2012 by Ian Bunting, Airdrie & Coatbridge
SAFE House sees CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) tasked with looking after dangerous fugitive Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington).
But when the safe house holding Frost is attacked, Matt finds himself on the run with his charge and ends up having to make difficult decisions on where to place his trust.
If the plot to Safe House sounds familiar that’s because the opening premise is a virtual rehash of Assault on Precinct 13.
But, not to worry, Swedish director Daniel Espinosa quickly takes this premise and heads out into the wide open spaces of South Africa, as opposed to the confined space of a single setting.
There’s not a great deal of depth or emotional heft to it but Safe House is a rip-roaring action ride.
Our early introductions to Matt and Tobin show two very different men who will soon be on a collision course.
Matt spends his time in a safe house bouncing balls off the wall, a picture of built-up frustration, and Tobin snaps the neck of a would-be assassin and changes outfits to get a man executed in his place.
Reynolds plays against type by cutting out the wisecracks as Matt is thrown in at the deep end. After a very bad performance level in 2011 (Green Lantern, The Change-Up), Reynolds starts this year off on more solid ground.
Washington gets to flirt with his villainous side again with a role he could probably play in his sleep but Tobin’s villainy is explained in a way that makes him much less of a rogue than Training Day’s Detective Harris and American Gangster’s Frank Lucas.
The film’s best sequence comes in the first half hour when a Jack Bauer-style interrogation leads into a safe house shoot-out where Frost starts getting into Matt’s head and the two leads brawl in a moving car after a car chase (phew, I’m tired just writing that!)
Espinosa repeatedly uses quick cuts to film the frenetic action, set over a two-day period, that consists of gun fights, fisticuffs and on-foot/in-car chases.
People die and there’s no John McClane-style putdowns; it’s kill or be killed.
Espinosa wisely decided to film in South Africa as the setting is bustling with life.
Matt and Tobin plough through protestors and a football crowd, complete with that annoying accessory; the vuvuzela.
David Guggenheim, on script duty, makes his big screen debut and while the story keeps things ticking along, some of it is very predictable.
The revelation of the identity of a CIA mole is so obvious the character may as well have had “don’t trust me” stamped to their forehead and the situation with Matt’s French girlfriend Ana (Nora Arnezeder) appears to be maturely resolved before bowing to Hollywood rom-com stylings.
Safe House isn’t an especially original piece of work, and it certainly won’t change your world, but if you’re looking for high octane thrills and top tier stars busting out their action chops then you’re on more than safe ground here.
Rating - 7 out of 10.