WBRi Movie Review: Denzel Washington And Ryan Reynolds in SAFE HOUSE (2012) English Action Flick

SAFE HOUSE (2012) Movie PosterCalcutta, India, Feb 19, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio / Penning Creations) The genre of action thrillers is a popular one among filmmakers in the Hollywood film industry. While movies like ‘Memento’ and ‘The Departed’ have assumed the status of cult classics as far as contemporary action flicks are concerned, films belonging to ‘The Bourne’ trilogy wowed critics and viewers alike too. The success of such films, coupled with the fact that action thrillers generally tend to open big at the box-office, encouraged many directors to try out their hands in this genre (with varying degrees of success). Daniel Espinosa, who had earlier made the hugely successful Swedish thriller, ‘Easy Money’ (2010) now returns with a brand new action movie, ‘Safe House’. Given the director’s proven expertise in this genre of movies, and with experienced actors like Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds at the helm, one expected big things out of this movie. ‘Safe House’, however (much to the disappointment of movie buffs!), is not quite up to the mark!

‘Safe House’ opens with former CIA agent, ‘Tobin Frost’ (Denzel Washington) retrieving several confidential files, which contain compromising evidence of the shady, underworld activities of several so-called ‘international peacekeepers.’ Problems rear their ugly head when many such global big bosses, in a bid to save their reputations, start making desperate (and life-threatening!) attempts to acquire these files from ‘Frost’s grasp. As a precautionary measure, ‘Frost’ is moved to a CIA-manned ‘safe house’ in Cape Town. There, ‘Frost’ meets ‘Matt Weston’ (Ryan Reynolds), the ‘keeper’ of the house and his glamorous girlfriend ‘Ana Moreau’ (Nora Arnezeder). The immediate dangers to Frost’s life seem to have been averted and he prepares to hand over the files to the higher authorities.

Trailer: Safe House (2012)

Things, however, do not remain quiet for long (as is expected in any standard action flick!) and the ‘safe house’ is attacked by ‘Vargas’ (Fares Fares), one of the many people after the life of Frost. ‘Vargas’ and his men go on a murderous spree at the house, forcing ‘Frost’ and ‘Weston’ to flee to the residence of the mentor of the latter, ‘Sam Barlow’ (Brendan Gleeson). The CIA also retains contact with ‘Weston’ via ‘Catherine Linkater’ (Vera Farmiga) and the latter tells ‘Weston’ to go to the Cape Town stadium and receive a package that has been stored for him over there. The package contains a GPS device, which would help ‘Frost’ and ‘Weston’ to another ‘safe house.’ As fate would have it, there is a major fall-out between the two and ‘Frost’ manages to get ‘Weston’ arrested too. The resourceful ‘Weston’ soon manages to make an escape, however and repeatedly tries to get hold of ‘Frost’ (with little success, though!).

The suspicions of ‘Weston’ that something is amiss at the CIA are vindicated by a chance remark of ‘Harlan Whitford’ (Sam Shepard), one of the directors of the organization. The latter uses an expression that signifies a secret code that was supposed to be known only by ‘Frost’ and ‘Weston.’ ‘Frost’ is subjected to another attack by ‘Vargas’, from which he manages to (with ‘Weston’s help) escape by the skin of his teeth. Everything points to the presence of a traitor in the CIA organization, who has been passing classified information to ‘Vargas’ and his men. So, who is this devious traitor? More importantly, will ‘Frost’ and ‘Weston’ be able to deliver the confidential files to their proper place? While not providing any spoilers here, it can be said that the film has an interesting twist towards the end!

The main plot of ‘Safe House’ is promising enough and movie kicks off at a breakneck speed, with ‘Frost’ getting hold of the files and then being forced to fend off the attacks from ruthless assassins, who are prepared to go to any lengths to retrieve those documents. The movie becomes a tad monotonous though, with the incidents in the movie becoming more and more predictable. The film offers precious little as far as plot-development is concerned, with the script never rising beyond a ‘good guy fights bad goons’ saga. At nearly two hours of run time, the film is too long for its genre and the second half of the movie is, in most parts, decidedly bland. The climax, which is innovatively thought out and quite brilliantly shot, redeems the movie somewhat, but that can hardly mask the fact that the movie, taken in its entirety, is a dull affair.

‘Safe House’ relies heavily on its two lead protagonists to prop up the film. To their credit, both Denzel Washington, as ‘Frost’, and Ryan Reynolds, as ‘Weston’, deliver powerhouse performances. Washington plays the role of the tough, no-nonsense and battle-hardened ex-CIA man with characteristic flair. The ability of the veteran actor to rise above ordinary scripts is once again showcased in ‘Safe House’. Washington’s character in the film could have done with greater (and more skilful!) character development and a sound back-story, though.

Ryan Reynolds, whose previous two releases (‘The Green Lantern’, ‘The Change-Up’) had been eminently forgettable, returns to form with ‘Safe House.’ He has the meatiest role in the movie and manages to do complete justice to his character in the film. Reynolds’ portrayal of a man, who is torn between his duties as a CIA agent and the love of his life, ‘Ana’, is indeed worth a round of applause. It is, in fact, quite ironical that, in an out-and-out action film, the sequence that actually stands out is the romantic parting shot, where ‘Weston’ and ‘Ana’ finally realize that their romance has no future and the two share a final smile before moving away from one another forever.

A major drawback of ‘Safe House’ is the distinctly ordinary and tacky nature of its action sequences. This comes across as a major surprise, particularly because the overall production standards of the movie are pretty high. As a general rule of thumb, action flicks that aspire to be successful at the theatres simply must have smartly executed stunts and combat scenes. However, ‘Safe House’ falls several notches short in this regard, with the fight scenes in the film appearing to be forced and repetitive (bordering on the boring!). Instead of sparking off an adrenalin rush among the viewers, the lengthy fight scenes in the movie are somewhat yawn-inducing. There is nothing about the film that the audience has not seen in countless other action thrillers and the lack of novelty in plot treatment does not help the cause of the movie either.

To give where credit is due, ‘Safe House’ is a visually stunning movie, with the South African locales being captured in a brilliant manner by Oliver Wood, the cinematographer. Background music, by Ramin Djawadi, is jarring in most parts. The movie also suffers from an inconsistent screenplay, which varies from being decent enough in the first half to downright weak in the latter portions of the movie. Richard Pearson, the editor, also could have done a better job.

‘Safe House’ is a fair attempt on the part of director Daniel Espinosa to deliver an entertaining action-thriller to the viewers. The film, however, suffers from a weak script, poor character sketches, loose editing and boring action sequences, which ensure the presence of a distinct air of mediocrity about the movie. The performances of Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, while fantastic on their own, are not quite enough to salvage this rather ordinary flick.

A well-made action-thriller requires the right mixture of a strong storyline and stylish action sequences. Unfortunately, ‘Safe House’ has enough of neither!