It’s hard to believe Safe House is not directed by Tony Scott because it has all the elements of that director’s style from the shaky fight sequences to the many ludicrous plot points. Unfortunately, the film isn’t Scott’s work because then at least you’d be able to ignore the plot flaws with entertainment. Safe House is a time-waster in that you’ll enjoy the movie in the moment but you’ll forget it immediately after leaving the theater.
CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is the “housekeeper” of one of the CIA safe houses in South Africa. When CIA’s most-wanted criminal Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) surrenders himself, everyone wonders what his ulterior motives are. When the safe house is comprised Weston and Frost go on the run, causing Weston’s colleagues to wonder if he’s in cahoots with Frost.
I mentioned this film is a lot like the work of Tony Scott, so if you enjoy that director’s past work you’ll enjoy Safe House. The movie doesn’t linger on exposition or monologues about the characters internal struggles. The film starts, introduces everyone and keeps an incredibly rapid pace until the end and at almost 2 hours that’s a rare feat.
The acting is also on par with a predictable action movie and while the acting isn’t horrible, I’d doubt it’d be present on any of these actors’ Oscar reels. Reynolds and Washington have strong chemistry with a constant back and forth to their dialogue. The two actors are old hat at action so they both know how to look shocked, frustrated, whatever the mood calls for. Washington’s character spends the majority of the film spouting lines that would sound good on a trailer (“I’m already in your head.”) while Reynolds doesn’t have any character; he’s just the poor schlub who follows Frost around. Other actors like Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, and Robert Patrick have bizarre appearances in this movie. It’s not that their characters are bad, it’s just these actors have played the exact same characters in other movies. Farmiga seems to play the exact same character as in Source Code. The actors are all wasted so seeing them in easily disposable roles is odd.
That’s what Safe House ultimately is: disposable. The action, the story, it’s all predicable and you can easily pinpoint scenes that are in other work, mainly Scott’s films. Director Daniel Espinosa even steals from Scott’s playbook in how he shoots all the action sequences; with shaky handheld cameras that don’t let you see any action and leave you with a headache. From the first scene you’re aware of who is good and who is bad, yet the constant need to double and triple cross becomes so convoluted that I just assumed if a character died they were bad. By the time I left the theater I was already forgetting scenes and lines that would have had any impact on me.
If Safe House didn’t boast such an impressive cast it would have been relegated to the DVD shelf. It’s a quick watch with decent characters, but it’s a re-tread of a premise filled with stock characters and a failure in trying to be smarter than expected.