action, brendan gleeson, cape town south africa, cia, daniel espinosa, david guggenheim, denzel washington, richard pearson, ryan reynolds, safe house, sam shepard, vera farmiga
“Off the Res”
Grade: B+ (SEE IT)
TO SAY THAT “Safe House” moves at breakneck speed is an apt description given one dazzling sequence in which rogue CIA operative Tobin Frost (played with great aplomb by Denzel Washington) escapes a BMW’s trunk, through the backseat, only to strangle the car’s driver, fellow agent Ryan Reynolds, from behind. The unrelenting action of “Safe House,” expertly choreographed by Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, makes the film more unstoppable than Washington’s last film, “Unstoppable,” more full of bullets ricocheting than his “Ricochet” of 1991. “Safe House” barely slows down to catch its breath and when it does, it’s aided by a strong cast including Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard, and Brendan Gleeson, all of whom demonize Frost for going, as they put it, “off the res.”
Frost’s first line in the film, “This is not a negotiation,” along with the remarkable deftness with which he pulls of a high-stakes operation, alerts us to his steely, sociopathic nature. Intermittently captured, then lost, by Reynold’s character Matt Weston, Frost is a supreme source of mystery: like a Dr. Lecter, he uses his psychological acumen to get under Weston’s skin with a probing I’m-just-like-you/you’re-just-like-me approach. The CIA, meanwhile, describes him as a “notorious” and “expert manipulator of human assets,” but we’re not sure why. Only later in “Safe House” do we realize our alliances are misguided, thereby proving another of Frost’s aphorisms, which he imparts to Weston: “Everyone betrays everyone.” The relationship between the two men, which begins as a simple cat-and-mouse pursuit but develops into something deeper, unfolds in a Bourne-like world in which political espionage and double-crosses collide. In fact, David Guggenheim’s script is well served by editor Richard Pearson (“The Bourne Supremacy”) who juggles multiple scenes like he’s spinning plates.
There are some minor improbabilities in “Safe House” that catalyze the action but make no real sense. Why would the CIA dispatch Weston, for example, to a crowded sports arena to pick up a GPS device when all hell can, and does, break loose with a wily Frost in custody? Are there no quiet spots, like a Mailbox Etc., in Cape Town? Does it really take more than 24 hours for the brass in Langley, Virginia to catch a flight to South Africa and help out the flailing Weston with Public Enemy #1?
Then again, it’s all about the action in “Safe House,” which crashes into you with shoot-outs, screaming mobs, sniper fire, and a veritable bloodbath that sends Reynolds flying through windshields and windows, all of which make it safe to say that “Safe House” is the first true action film of 2012.
I recall seeing an interview by Denzel Washington where he said he was going to be more choosy on his film choices. That kind of comment often means they end of taking an easy payday on mediocre next few films. I prefer Washington dramatic not action. I’ll check this out with an open mind.
Very true. Yes, if you’re an action fan, you’ll be easily and steadily entertained!
Ha, and “Scary Poter” was already taken, so I had to scrounge up something!
Matt Stewart said:
I’m glad you liked this Colin, I have little expectations myself, but it does seem like an entertaining B movie.
Hey Colin, I have read mixed reviews about this film. Most of the negative seemed to focus on this being some sort of Bourne rip off. However your review makes it seem pretty exciting, might have to check it out.
Yeah, I suppose I’m less excited about “Safe House” the more time elapses but it’s the fact that the action is more or less non-stop that kept me entertained; some great smash-and-crash scenes!
Hi Colin, I just saw it with 3 friends (so that’s 4guys1movie instead). I tried not to prejudge but did; I preferred when the film went for less ear splitting action and went for the drama. This, Washington and Reynolds did well as they had a good rapport. Some very good lines between them and nice nice tongue in cheek references like naming a character Ludlum, or Swartzkoff airport.
Maybe it was mistake to have a preview for the new Bourne movie before as it planted comparisons to watch for. Speaking of new born new Bourne it seems this new one doesn’t have Matt Damon but a guy from Hurt Locker as new character. Hmm looks good, I’ll post this small commentary as my review on my site so excuse the repetition.
Good ear! Missed those allusions. 4guys1movie, ha ha – sounds fun! What are you reviewing next? Yes, that’s the star of “The Hurt Locker” – Jeremy something – as the new Bourne. Hollywood loves its franchises on life support!
Nice choice of Ryan Reynolds picture…!
Here to please!