Director: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga
Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston. Weston is a young, eager CIA agent who is in charge of housekeeping a safe house. One day he gets the action he thirsts for, as notorious ex CIA agent Tobin Frost is captured and brought to his boring safe house. However due to the sensitive nature of the files he now possesses, armed forces attack the safe house, meaning that Matt Weston must now escort Tobin Frost across Cape Town, before the mysterious forces with unexplained knowledge get to them. Ryan Reynolds is an actor with great potential yet is one whose talent is commonly wasted in mediocre films, sadly this is no exception. Whether Reynolds feels my frustration with his current career is unknown and unlikely, however I like to think that Reynolds found common ground in a character who feels that he has more to offer, yet is stuck in a bland, tedious position.
Reynolds gives a performance, which does, along with the performance of his co-star, carry the film well, however, like the role of his co-star, this is not a role, which is challenging him in any way, except perhaps psychically. Denzel Washington is said by many to be one of the most dependable names in Hollywood, by producers as he is bankable and by consumers as he never turns in a poor performance. Washington is given a potentially interesting character to play in this film however his character like the film is never as fascinating or as dark as it could and should be. More so than Man on a Ledge, this is a frustrating film when you consider the missed opportunities.
While I am not somebody who brags that they could make a film better (Even though I obviously could...) this film would have been a lot simpler, braver and as a result stronger if it had been a one-location film (In the vein of Buried, Ryan Reynolds best to date). Like Man on a Ledge, if the film had merely been exactly what it said on the tin, then more inventive and challenging, direction and performances would be the result. There are hints at a friendship or perhaps one-way respect being built up between the Reynolds and Washington characters throughout the film however it is never fully realized. If the film had thrown these two together and forced their characters to survive the night in one-location, the emphasis would have been on their performances and chemistry, two things that due to the quality of the actors would definitely have soared under such circumstances.
A one location film would also have required Daniel Espinosa to actually direct rather than copy and paste the visual look of this film. While the shaky-cam element of the film’s cinematography did not sicken me as it did others (Perhaps demonstrating that me and others of my generation have become desensitized to the possible effects of filming action in such a way) I did find it to make every single action scene look and feel exactly the same. The only action scenes I remember as of now are two that did something differently. Whether it was Weston and Frost brawling with each other to take control of their car, while being chased or Frost having to run across the top of South African slums to evade his pursuers (Mind you even that has been done, except in Rio De Janeiro in Fast Five, Rio incidentally being the originally intended location for this film)
Speaking of the location, what does this make this film stick out from others of its recent ilk is the South Africa setting. Unfortunately like the simplistic setting of a safe house, the film never capitalizes on it the way it should and this film looks like it could have been shot anywhere, such is the little impact that the setting actually has on much of the action. Another opportunity to be original ignored.
As the film relied heavy on its action set pieces, rather than on its two central performers as it should have done, the film became very repetitive as nothing was done to liven up the action visually, or the story it was a part of. Oddly enough, in making the story less simple, they made it less intriguing, as a depressingly predictable conspiracy element was added to the narrative. If you have watched more than one action/thriller movie with a mystery side to it, then you can predict the “big twist” of this film. However like everything that preceded it, an initially promising development is rushed away by an action scene, receiving no substantial development.
The film also has the incredibly clunky conceit, of cutting back to C.I.A agents in your typical, lots of activity and fancy screens, C.I.A crisis room. The purpose of all these scenes is merely to provide exposition. Reveal the characters organically through their interactions? No lets cut to anonymous C.I.A worker number 27 to tell us how oh so dangerous Tobin Frost is. What makes these C.I.A scenes transcend laughable cliché and into depressing disappointment, is the fact that actors such as Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson are saddled with it, talk about wasting your supporting cast. As is becoming a common criticism in my reviews, Safe House has the dreaded romantic subplot that is just as forced, cheesy and time wasting in this movie as it is in others. I’m not against romance or female characters in films (As my frequent criticism of this element of modern cinema may lead some of you to believe) I am against bad, cog in a machine like romance in film and female characters whose only purpose is to supposedly develop the male lead.
Despite the harshness of my review, Safe House is not a bad film. Despite it being over stretched at just under two hours, I never found myself bored with this film. The actors, despite having their talent unrealized, make the most out of poor dialogue and keep your eyes open. The action scenes, while unoriginal in execution are in fact impressive on a sound level and it is the sound editors and mixers who are the stars of this film. Also as a sixteen year old male, raised on the films and video games which have heavily influenced the style of this film, I would be lying if I said that even some of the more mediocre action scenes, didn’t have me engaged and at times excited. Safe House, like Man on a Ledge, is the kind of film that would really pass the time well on a long haul flight. While the performances are better than Man on a Ledge and the story should have been, Man on a Ledge has the (albeit perhaps unintentional) guilty pleasure and comedic edge, which is missing from the humorless Safe House.
Overall Safe House if you’re a fan of action films and of its two leads, which I am, will keep you entertained but is not exceptional. It wastes its cast, setting and a potentially simplistic story to instead live up to the first word of its title and conform to not just the feel but also the look of every other average modern action movie.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
Disagree with this review? Give us your thoughts in the comments below and spread the word by clicking the Twitter and Facebook icons down below. To see reviews from 2011 click here