Rating: 3 stars out of five
Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds face-off against each other in this often slick but overwrought thriller.
Washington plays Tobin Frost, a former CIA agent who turned against the agency. He picks up a pill-like microchip from a former MI6 agent in Cape Town. Frost is then hunted down and turns himself in at the US Consulate to get away from his assailants. Frost is led to a safe house, a facility to contain prisoners in transit, run by Matt Weston (Reynolds), a low-level agent who was expecting more James Bond style shenanigans at his work. At least he has an attractive French girlfriend (Ana Moreau) to spend time with.
The safe house is subsequently attacked, but Weston and Frost escape. Once outside, Frost does his best to escape from Weston, but Weston proves to be a hard man to shake. Meanwhile, the main man behind the attack is closing in on the two, seemingly trying to avoid the fate of a Wikileaks style revelations should the chip fall into the wrong hands.
Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, working with “Bourne Trilogy” cinematographer Oliver Wood, does a fair job with this unremarkable action film. There are a couple of harrowing scenes, such as a waterboarding scene as a group of CIA agents torture Frost, but the whole sequence feels by-the-way, with no real consequences.
There are decent action set pieces, such as one set amongst the container homes of a South African township and a confrontation at a stadium. But shaky camerawork proves to be the film’s undoing, and the action scenes could use a few more establishing scenes to figure out where everyone is in relation to each other.
The final showdown with the big baddy is also a bit of a letdown, ending the film on a whimper. It’s also not too hard to guess who might be behind the attacks, as viewers of recent thrillers featuring US agents would probably have already guessed.
Washington’s character Frost doesn’t seem too far from some of the other characters he’s portrayed recently; an intense loner going against the system and writing his own rules. Reynolds’ career has been shaky recently, with Green Lantern bombing at the box-office. He does show some of his acting chops here, and Espinosa has given him a bit more humanity.
Look! It's Van Wilder holding a gun.
Besides the two main leads, there’s also a great supporting cast, with Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepard playing CIA management, all trying to help the rookie Weston against the far more experienced Frost. Unfortunately, they’re not required to do much, other than fret at Weston.
There’s nothing particularly original or amazing about “Safe House”, which plays it safe most of the way, with a script that’s mostly uninspired. It delivers what’s promised on the label, but everyone involved will probably want to forget about it once it’s gone from the box-office.