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Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA rookie who is manning a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa, when Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) the CIA's most wanted rogue agent is captured and taken to the safe house. During Frost's interrogation, the safe house is overtaken by mercenaries who want Frost. Weston and Frost escape and must stay out of the gunmen's sight until they can get to another safe house. Written by
Douglas Young (the-movie-guy)
Safe House is a movie that fulfils its popcorn intentions, but metaphorically brings to mind the image of a bobble-head – a bloated brain supported by little else, springing uncontrollably in different directions. When the action ramps up, Safe House is at its best, providing ample energy, a plethora or gunplay and a number of gritty combat sequences. When pausing to forward the plot, spew exposition or focus on perfunctory romances, it grinds to a halt. Safe House would be better viewed with a remote equipped with a fast forward button nearby.
Thankfully for Safe House, the sequences with action outnumber those without, so it comes out on top on a percentage basis alone. What makes it slip just out of the realm of solid praise is that it really fails as a tense, psychological duel of wits. I mean c'mon you have the one of the coolest actors working today (Denzel Washington of course) trying to escape his confines with only a lowly safe house guard (Ryan Reynolds) in his way – use it! The trailers and radio ads prominently feature the line "I'm already in your head", but the movie itself offers little in the way of subtle manipulation or mind games. All we get are a few scenes where Washington's Tobin Frost intimidates the crap out of the inexperienced operative and forebodingly warns that the CIA will screw him one day.
Now that I've kicked this movie while it's down, let me tell you what it does very well: bloodshed. I already mentioned the ample high-octane set pieces, but of course volume of action does not always translate directly to a solid film ("Transformers" springs to mind) it has to bring something to the table. Safe House earns its R-rating in many an instance with sometimes uncomfortably realistic shootouts, brutal interrogations and wonderfully choreographed (but wince-inducing) hand- to-hand combat sequences. If you think that John McClane looks rough at the end of a "Die Hard" flick, wait until you see how Reynolds looks when the credits roll. Refreshingly, this is not the kind of movie where a character is shot, grits his teeth a little bit, holds his wound and then ten minutes later they have apparently forgotten about it. You feel every punch and when somebody gets stabbed they writhe on the floor in pain and when somebody gets shot they are likely not getting back up.
There are also a handful of lengthy chase sequences through the streets of Cape Town, a soccer stadium and the slums of Langa and in all instances deliver. They are easy to follow, high-energy and far more real-world than we're normally accustomed when talking about a Hollywood car chase. In all of these sequences (automotive or otherwise) we have Reynolds front and center. Safe House is really a Ryan Reynolds movie masquerading as a Denzel Washington film, though that is not to say Washington is relegated to a just supporting role, it is simply more focused on our in-way-over-his-head rookie than the lethal pro. Reynolds is the surprise here, not only holding his own against the veteran but delivering his best mainstream performance to date (there is not a hint of his wise-cracking The Green Lantern or Deadpool characters to be found here).
Curiously, there were very few one-liners delivered by Washington and though he oozed charisma through his presence alone, I would have liked to see a little more sizzle; one more duty that lands on the script, which just offers nothing in the way of interesting dialogue, insights into the mind of a killer or even a brisk pace for that matter. As a movie to pop in the DVD player with some buds, however (one that you can tune out the downtimes between action set pieces) it delivers absolutely and does offer one of the rarer instances for Washington to do his bad guy thing – a welcome sight.
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