Is it safe?
Safe House (2012): 8 out of 10: A rogue agent (Denzel Washington) has acquired a list of secret agents and is threatening to sell it to the highest bidder. Cornered by turncoat partners, he escapes to the US Embassy where he is then carted off to a CIA safe house run by relatively green but ambitious Ryan Reynolds.
The Good: Safe House a very intelligently written thriller that skirts many traps (for most of its running time) that plagues the spy vs. spy genre (And honestly has plagued many of the non-James Bond spy films since at least the mid-fifties.)
The cast is across the board top-notch. Denzel Washington cleans up nice halfway through the film and uses his magical smile when appropriate. He never comes across as anything less than a potential bad guy, or at the least a good guy who is a sociopath. It is a tough role to pull off as there are many ways such a character can go sideways, but Denzel is always in control.
Ryan Reynolds has an even harder task of being the relatively green CIA agent who will be called on to go head to head with one of the CIA’s best in a believable way. Ryan plays his character as competent but frustrated, and that is the perfect tone. The movie also avoids using Reynold’s character as an audience surrogate Denzel to do endless plot info dumps on. (There is a little of this but not nearly as bad as we have seen elsewhere.)
The Supporting Cast.
The supporting cast is also uniformly excellent. Vera Farmiga wins her annual God where do I know her from award. (It turns out she was the antagonist in last year’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters). I mean, I always recognize her name when I see it, then I mix her up in my head with Lena Headey of all people and can’t figure out who she is while watching the film.
Nora Arnezeder plays the small role of Ryan Reynolds’ love interest, whom he would have to leave the CIA for if he wanted to bring the relationship to the next level. He chooses to stay with the CIA for the time being. He chooses poorly.
Rubén Blades plays Denzel’s Columbian friend living in a South African shanty town with his family and does a fine job with some good action beats. Heck, we even have Sam Shepherd acting all Sam Shepardy and Robert Patrick playing a character called Kiefer during a waterboarding scene which got my wires all crossed and I was expecting 24 fan fiction at any moment.
The use of location shooting in South Africa is excellent and while the action scenes borrow heavily from the Jason Bourne oeuvre, they are believable and well staged and shot. No Goldeneye stealing a tank for Mr. Reynold’s in this movie.
The Bad: For most of its running time Safe House avoids many of the common tropes in this mentor/mentee CIA drama that rub my rhubarb the wrong way. In fact, Safe House avoids or subverts some of the worst ones. Alas, the film has to slow down and get chatty and all the bad screenwriting tricks come up to haunt us. Almost all of this honestly takes place in the last ten minutes and hardly ruins the film. Here are a couple.
First, my normal complaint about lazy plot twists involving CIA agents gunning for each other. They didn’t mention that during orientation. It isn’t as bad as say Suicide Squad but really if CIA agents were constantly literally backstabbing each other nobody would stay past orientation.
Second, nobody cares about your Maguffin. Honestly, I have always found the best thrillers are when the stakes are actually low on a worldwide apocalypse scale and high on a character scale. (This is one of the keys to why Casino Royale is one of the top three Bond films.) We want Reynolds to succeed because we have grown to like the character and want him to do well. We could care less if the names of British agents are sold to the Turks or whatever.
You know who really wouldn’t care about that? CNN? Seriously, unless a Kardashian was outed as a 00 agent I doubt it would even make the news ticker crawling along on the bottom. Why Safe House takes a sudden and wildly imaginative speculation of the political fallout of the release of such information is a head scratcher. It is as if the film forgot what makes it work.
In Conclusion: Safe House is a very above average spy thriller. It sports and excellent cast and location shooting. It has plenty of action and does not overstay its welcome. An excellent film that I highly recommend.
We have a trailer and an action scene from the beginning of the film. Don’t panic, like I said, Denzel cleans up later in the film. Honestly, he pulls off both looks.
Decent mix of our stars and supporting players. Safe House is not the most photogenic film. Honestly, I had the hardest time getting decent screenshots not due to picture quality but rather the harsh lighting and fast moving camera used in the movie.
Not my best work but enjoy all the same.