DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Safe House

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Safe House

Safe House (2012) dir. Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard, Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga

By Alan Bacchus

An unlikely success to be sure, Safe House surprisingly garnered over $120 million at the North American box office. Unfortunately, the story of a lowly CIA safe house operator who finally gets to see some action when a notorious counterspy arrives to stay with a lot of international baddies trailing behind plays like a decent though forgettable Tony Scott knockoff.

That said, we’re put into a unique setting for this picture, Cape Town, South Africa. Denzel Washington’s character, Tobin Frost (great name), is trading a secret file with a rogue CIA agent. After an attack by some big-nosed, slick haired and overall nasty looking gunmen, Frost escapes into CIA custody and is moved to a safe house. Enter Matt Weston (Reynold), a nebbish family man whose career is more like a glorified housekeeper. But when Frost arrives he finds himself eye to eye with a legendary international criminal.

When that big-nosed baddie returns to the fray and finds Tobin at the safe house, it becomes a desperate chase with Weston and Tobin forced to work together to survive. As expected, a few twists and turns in the action involve characters switching allegiances, ultimately revealing Tobin as the keeper of some of the CIA's darkest secrets.

The course of action and its execution play out with only adequate cinematic skills. It’s Daniel Espinosa’s first American film after his decent international hit Snabba Cash. That film showed some promise of a tough action filmmaker, but the underwhelming and turnkey nature of Safe House instills little hope that Espinoza will be anything special.

Reynolds and Washington, the great actors that they are, make a good duo. Denzel commands most of the film, playing his nebulous baddie role with the same kind of aplomb as recent minor hits Unstoppable and Book of Eli. Denzel can do so much with very little. He rarely needs to speak, instead showing the confidence of his character with action and reaction. All the other character actors, including Sam Shepard, Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga, have grossly underwritten stock roles borrowed from other new millennium action thrillers.

The third act plays out the expected expression of mutual admiration and brotherly loyalty developed between Weston and Tobin, and the final gunfight, in which all the characters are blasting each other in one confined space, lacks any cinematic imagination. As such, despite very strong creative minds involved here, Safe House settles into ordinary boilerplate filmmaking.


Safe House is available on Blu-ray from Universal Home Entertainment.

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