Director: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds,
Taking the ‘thrill of the chase’ to a whole new level, Safe House is literally just a single extended chase scene, a loud and chaotic ride that packs a lot of bang at the expense of plot structure and character development.
Directed by Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa, the film centres on rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), who is forced to turn himself in after
years on the run selling government secrets.
When a safe house he’s remanded to in Cape Town is attacked, rookie operative Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is thrown in the deep end as the two are forced to escape together and stay alive.
On the surface, Safe House should be firecracker entertainment, but it feels more like a makeshift production; a series of set pieces that overvalue the need for frenetic action as opposed to dialogue and story.
From the beginning, we probably know too much about Frost’s intentions. By keeping some of the plot a secret, the writers could have accommodated a few extra surprises instead of the grossly predictable ones we are left with.
The script, by relative newcomer David Guggenheim, instead stumbles through
just about every spy movie cliche possible, without ever turning them on their heads or providing fresh insight into familiar themes.
The Cape Town setting is a refreshing change of backdrop – but that’s all it is. Throughout the film, we encounter no South African characters for more than 30 seconds, making it feel like a wasted opportunity to inject some fresh material into an otherwise stale story.
And so with a substandard script offering few thrills, it is up to the relentless action to keep the audience hooked. And it does work, to an extent.
The various martial arts duels are shot a close-range but are still discernible, thanks to a reliance on quick-cut editing rather than the nauseating ‘shaky-cam’ shooting style.
The various fist-fights, shootouts and chase scenes are visceral experiences, and achieve a certain level of realism in terms of how the characters react to injuries. The tone is dark and gritty, and overall very engaging.
But perhaps ironically, the main flaw is that there is so much action that it simply becomes monotonous. Most of the excitement actually come from the moments of calm that briefly punctuate the relentless action and allow Washington and Reynolds time to show off their respective acting talents – moments that are sadly few and far between.
2 1/2 stars
– Dane Halpin