Saturday, 2 June 2012

Film Review: Safe House

Certificate: 15 (strong violence throughout and some language)
Directed By: Daniel Espinosa
Cast: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham, Joel Kinnaman, Nora Arnezeder
Budget: $85 million
Runtime: 115 minutes
Trailer: Watch

When rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost (Washington) turns himself into the US consulate in Cape Town, South Africa to escape some clandestine assassins, he is taken to a safe house manned by rookie agent Matt Weston (Reynolds) for interrogation. When the safe house is hit by the hoodlums, Weston escapes with Frost and vows to bring him in. However, things become complicated when Weston finds out the reason for Frost's double-dealing, forcing him to question where his own loyalties lie.

This is a 'safe' movie, not too daring yet not too brilliant either. Safe House benefits from its simplistic structure where it saves on the talking in order to maximise the action. This serves to mask many of the film's weaknesses, namely its predictability. The film's major twist for example can be spotted about half way in when it becomes apparent that some sort of CIA malfeasance is at work. As it always is in films of this type. It is fair to say that Bourne really did do a number on how modern day spy flicks are supposed to be. Almost every spy effort of note since, even Bond's reboot, has been influenced and reengineered for the post-Bourne era. Rogue agents on the run from unknown elements, car chases through built up areas, shady government organisations all seem to be prerequisite for the modern spy thriller these days. Even Safe House's cinematographer, Oliver Wood, is the same man who shot the last two Bourne films, and it shows.

Safe House does admittedly try to touch upon some intriguing notions of its own. The ideological battle between Weston's idealism and Tobin's cynicism does have potential. Likewise, Tobin is supposedly a master manipulator but while he's certainly coolheaded and switched on, he never really displays these acclaimed talents. He's a slippery man well versed in the ways of spydom no doubt, but other than his experience his 'preternatural' abilities extend about as far as getting Weston to question whether the CIA is up to no good, as if that's some Earth-shattering revelation. Well no shit Sherlock. As such, Safe House unfortunately never follows through with its promises to work your grey matter.

Indeed, Washington glides through Safe House effortlessly. In fact, maybe too effortlessly as he almost seems to wing the role on charm alone. This is in contrast to hardworking Reynolds, who's evidently acting his little guts out. One might think that this would make for a great buddy up but there's something a bit odd with their interactions. One's clearly into it, the other you can't tell if he gives two shits. If we are to take the premise that Tobin's character is a master of head-fucks, this is certainly one which he succeeds in pulling. Gleeson is adequate, but perhaps most disappointing is how Farmiga has again been shunted to a minor role like in Source Code. The woman is clearly a talented actress and it just seems a waste of her abilities. Although it is nice to see Joel Kinnaman pop in, a man who seems to be getting his face into a lot these days.

In a sense this is slightly disappointing in that the best spy films are invariably quite cerebral. This is not. As Bourne clones go though, Safe House is pretty average; better than Salt, worse than Hanna. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a boring one. Decent watch albeit predictable action fest.