×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Safe House

"Safe House" is a viciously energetic South Africa-set actioner that makes up in sweaty atmosphere and brute force what it lacks in surprise.

With:
Tobin Frost - Denzel Washington
Matt Weston - Ryan Reynolds
Catherine Linklater - Vera Farmiga
David Barlow - Brendan Gleeson
Harlan Whitford - Sam Shepard
Carlos Villar - Ruben Blades
Ana Moreau - Nora Arnezeder
Daniel Kiefer - Robert Patrick

Hardly the first movie to envision the CIA as a hotbed of corruption, secrecy and deadly internecine warfare, “Safe House” is a viciously energetic South Africa-set actioner that makes up in sweaty atmosphere and brute force what it lacks in surprise. Swift but overlong, this mechanically effective Hollywood debut from Swedish-born helmer Daniel Espinosa (“Easy Money”) doesn’t have an original bone in its body — or, by the end, an unbroken bone between its two leads. Cat-and-mouse pairing of Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds should land punchy if not pulverizing B.O. blows at home and overseas.

The first-produced screenplay by David Guggenheim superficially recalls the template of 2001’s “Training Day” in that it casts Washington as a ruthless, not-to-be-trusted avatar of violence playing malevolent mentor to a white-male rookie. But there are also shades of the “Bourne” movies present in the pic’s slamming edits and herky-jerky handheld camerawork, its de rigueur cynicism toward dirty agency politics, and its restless toggling between the men in the field and the CIA suits trying to hunt them down.

At the heart of the matter lies a particularly hoary MacGuffin: a classified list of operatives and agency secrets that must be protected at any cost. That means capturing Tobin Frost (Washington), a murderous rogue spy who has eluded the CIA for years, but has now surfaced in Cape Town with the incriminating file in his possession. A man with many enemies, as well as a name perhaps calculated to evoke serial killers and Santa Claus, Frost is ambushed by thugs barely five minutes in and winds up surrendering at the CIA’s nearest safe house.

The housekeeper on duty there is Matt Weston (Reynolds), an agency greenhorn in love with his unsuspecting French g.f. (Nora Arnezeder), bored with his far-flung outpost and ready for an exciting career in international espionage. Frost’s arrival turns out to be his make-or-break career opportunity: When the aforementioned thugs launch a ferocious attack on the safe house, Weston must go on the run with Frost, ensuring that he doesn’t let him get away — and isn’t killed by either the attackers or Frost himself.

Frost, of course, is not about to make this easy for him. When he’s not turning the tables on Weston in the middle of a crowded stadium or grabbing the wheel from him in one of the film’s many extended vehicular smash-’em-ups, this most skilled of assassins attempts to wage a subtler form of psychological warfare. Yet the cruel put-downs feel second-rate, the anti-CIA sentiments could have been lifted from a blotter, and the old-pro/young-gun dynamic never rises above routine. Washington, as cool and formidable a presence as ever, is none too energized by his material, which requires him to drop thinly veiled taunts about Weston’s sexual preferences and mutter tough-guy cliches about how impossible it is for a spy to sustain a meaningful relationship. You don’t say.

Reynolds comes off as much more alert and engaged by comparison, in part because both he and his character have more to prove. Appearing opposite a heavyweight co-star in an action-heavy vehicle that requires far more in terms of bodily endurance than f/x-laden extravaganzas like “Green Lantern,” the thesp rolls up his sleeves, benefiting from his ability to project intelligence as well as insecurity, often simultaneously. Supporting cast includes Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepard as three CIA execs whose various hidden allegiances will come as no surprise to anyone paying attention, as well as Ruben Blades as a world-weary old ally of Frost’s who gets closest to supplying the film with a cold, bruised heart.

Perhaps aware that his characters will compel interest only to the extent that they’re in danger at all times, Espinosa puts Frost and Weston through the physical wringer, dispensing bullet holes and stab wounds like party favors while giving stunt coordinators Greg Powell and Grant Hulley, fight coordinator Oliver Schneider and second unit director/d.p. Alexander Witt ample room to cut loose. Lenser Oliver Wood keeps the cameras on the move, and editor Richard Pearson adds another layer of disorientation by slicing and dicing every other scene into a barely coherent frenzy. In contrast with the fragmented kineticism of Paul Greengrass’ “Bourne” movies, there’s no existential dimension to the shattered-glass aesthetic here; it’s just raw, chaotic action, inelegantly shot and staged but no less unnerving for it.

Pic extracts considerable production value from its Cape Town shoot, most impressively during a chase scene set in the township of Langa, which finds Frost evading capture by leaping across slum rooftops. The ensuing destruction of homes provides an apt image of U.S. powers reducing Third World civilization to rubble, while putting a cruel spin on the pic’s title, though no one involved seems aware or particularly sympathetic.

Safe House

Production: A Universal release presented in association with Relativity Media of a Bluegrass Films production. Produced by Scott Stuber. Executive producers, Denzel Washington, Scott Aversano, Adam Merims, Alexa Faigen, Trevor Macy, Marc D. Evans. Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Screenplay, David Guggenheim.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Oliver Wood; editor, Richard Pearson; music, Ramin Djawadi; production designer, Brigitte Broch; supervising art director, Nigel Churcher; art directors, Pablo Maestre, Shira Hockman, Jonathan Hely-Hutchinson; set decorators, Melinda Launspauch, Andrew McCarthy, Tom Olive; sound, Nico Louw; sound designers, Peter Staubli, Dino R. Dimuro, Christopher Assells; supervising sound editor, Per Hallberg; re-recording mixers, Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montano; special effects coordinator, Clive Beard; special effects supervisors, Cordell McQueen, Terry Flowers, Sam Conway; visual effects supervisor, Simon Hughes; visual effects, Image Engine; stunt coordinators, Greg Powell, Grant Hulley; fight coordinator, Olivier Schneider; assistant director, John Wildermuth; casting, Sarah Halley Finn. Reviewed at AMC Century City 15, Feb. 1, 2012. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 114 MIN.

With: Tobin Frost - Denzel Washington
Matt Weston - Ryan Reynolds
Catherine Linklater - Vera Farmiga
David Barlow - Brendan Gleeson
Harlan Whitford - Sam Shepard
Carlos Villar - Ruben Blades
Ana Moreau - Nora Arnezeder
Daniel Kiefer - Robert Patrick

More Film

  • Playwright Mark Medoff author of "Children

    Mark Medoff, 'Children of a Lesser God' Playwright, Dies at 79

    Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79. His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer. “Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Interscope Films Relaunches With Full Slate at Tribeca (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Interscope record label’s interest in film/music crossover isn’t exactly a secret: With hit companion albums for “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther” and “La La Land,” they’ve seemed to own the soundtrack space at times in recent years. And the company hasn’t completely made a secret of its desire to move into film production. [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Fans and Theaters Assemble for Biggest Marvel Movie Ever

    For San Diego resident Shawn Richter, “Avengers: Endgame” is more than the conclusion to a monumental period in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the West Coast branch chair of Avengers Initiative, a cosplay charity that raises money for causes like the Ronald McDonald House Children’s Charities, the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are [...]

  • Jillian Bell appears in Brittany Runs

    Amazon's 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' Sets Summer Release

    “Brittany Runs a Marathon” will be rushing to theaters on Aug. 23. Amazon Studios dated the comedy on Wednesday. The pic, starring Jillian Bell (“Rough Night,” “22 Jump Street”), won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. The flick follows the titutal Brittany, who decides to run around New York City in order to [...]

  • Lionsgate Hires Lynn Whitney in Marketing

    Lionsgate Hires Former Warner Bros. Exec Lynn Whitney

    Lionsgate announced Wednesday that Lynn Whitney will become head of worldwide paid media, partnerships, promotions and consumer products. Whitney was formerly the executive VP of worldwide media at Warner Bros.   In her new role, Whitney will build out media campaigns for movies like Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s romantic comedy “Long Shot.” “I am [...]

  • El silencio de otros

    Film Review: 'The Silence of Others'

    “Forgiven but not forgotten” is a platitude we routinely use to end disputes both petty and grievous, but it’s the reverse outcome — the mass forgetting of crimes and conflicts never truly resolved — that itches away at a post-Franco Spain in “The Silence of Others.” Soberly chronicling the ongoing legal battle of General Franco’s [...]

  • A Womans Work-The NFLs Cheerleader Problem

    Tribeca Documentaries Explore Gender Issues in Sport

    Up until recently, what it meant to be a professional female athlete in a world dominated by men wasn’t an issue that garnered high volumes of public interest, let alone national headlines. But that all changed in October 2017 when stories from the New York Times and the New Yorker detailing sexual allegations and improper [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content