tue 28/05/2024

Safe House | reviews, news & interviews

Safe House

Safe House

Violent action, intriguing South African locations, vacuous characters

Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds on the run from assorted traitors, assassins and conspirators

Never mind the stars or the director. These days, it's the unit travel agent who can make the difference between disastrous turkey and opening weekend bliss. Since Safe House just pipped amnesiac romance The Vow to the top of the US box office charts, we must conclude that the decision to place the film in the slightly unusual locale of Cape Town has proved a shrewd one.

It certainly wasn't originality, unpredictability or skilful character development which fired it up the rankings. Yes alright, it does star reliable crowd-puller Denzel Washington as rogue and very, very treacherous CIA agent Tobin Frost (do they pick these names with the iAppellation app, one wonders?), while you may recall Ryan Reynolds from ...  er... some not very interesting films he made in the past. Here, he's lowly CIA agent Matt Weston, who yearns to become a fully-fledged case officer, but is currently languishing as "housekeeper" of the titular safe house in Cape Town (pictured below).

It all kicks off when Frost acquires a micro-file containing the identities of loads of renegade spies from various international agencies from MI6 man Alec Wade (Liam Cunningham), for which he proposes to launch a bidding war among those desperate to keep it secret. They'd rather kill him and get it back for free, so soon there are cars crashing and bullets flying everywhere, including one through Alec Wade's head. All this drives Frost to seek refuge in the American consulate, even though he's the CIA's most wanted target. Thence the Agency sends him to the safe house for a spot of genteel water-boarding, but then the bad - or worse - guys bust in with lots of explosions and gunfire. Frost and Matt Weston are forced to go on the run. Weston wants to bring Frost back into CIA custody, but it becomes clear that it's unwise to trust anybody at all.

All of this is tackled with unimpeachable technical skill by director Daniel Espinosa, who proves himself a capable action shooter with numerous fast and violent close-combat encounters and an above-average car chase through downtown Cape Town, where Weston handles a borrowed Mercedes like a NASCAR champion. There's also an atmospheric scene set during a football match at Cape Town's Green Point stadium, and a sequence in the Langa township, where the gun-toting legions of the Ungodly keep crashing through corrugated iron roofs and landing in people's living rooms. Hats off to director of photography Oliver Wood, who brings useful expertise gleaned from his work on the Bourne flicks.

But while the action is great, you couldn't care a hoot about any of the characters. They've tried to put some paint and powder on Washington's role by making him a wine connoisseur and giving him some weary "son, let me tell you what I've learned" soliloquies, which only highlight how much he's a Greatest Hits of thriller cliches. As Weston, Ryan Reynolds ticks the required boxes, but is as psychologically fascinating as a lawn mower. The viewer's intellect is engaged only to the extent of guessing how many traitors there are in the CIA.

Perversely, a squad of unnecessarily solid performers has been drafted in to fill the secondary roles. There's burly Brendan Gleeson in the Brian Cox/Albert Finney slot as senior spook David Barlow, alias He Who Knows Where the Bodies Are Buried. Sam Shepard stands menacingly behind his desk as CIA Deputy Director of Operations Harlan Whitford, though they could have kept swapping in Tom Skerritt or Scott Glenn as the action progressed and probably no-one would have noticed. Vera Farmiga (pictured above with Shepard) makes it most of the way through the movie as CIA Branch Chief Catherine Linklater, a role which involves a lot of barking at operatives in the field from a multi-screened nerve centre back at HQ. There's even the de rigueur helicopter shot, captioned "CIA Headquarters, Langley, VA", which might have come from  The Bourne Catastrophe or Mission:Preposterous. So go for the screeches and bangs and the South African setting, but leave your brain on the sofa watching Borgen.

Watch trailer for Safe House


These days, it's the unit travel agent who can make the difference between disastrous turkey and opening weekend bliss


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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