There is not much in the movie Safe House that takes place in a house, nor is it ever safe in any way, but it is a gritty, brutal and realistic looking film that moves at neck-breaking speed and rarely gives you a chance to catch your breath.
This is the first American film by Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, but most of the action takes place in Capetown, South Africa, where CIA house-sitter Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) spends endless days watching a safe house that is rarely used. Matt is beyond bored with this assignment and yearns for some experience that will get him a promotion and a transfer to Paris, where he can be with his girlfriend.
Enter Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a former CIA operative that was one of the agency’s best (are they ever anything less), who has gone rogue and has spent years underground performing traitorous acts against the United States and other not-so-friendly countries. To avoid being captured and killed for a mysterious file he’s obtained, Tobin turns himself in at the US Embassy in Capetown, where he is then transported to Matt Weston’s CIA safe house.
It turns out that the CIA and several other clandestine entities want the file that Tobin has, and will go to extreme lengths and body counts to get it. Weston saves Tobin from an attack on his safe house and goes from the frying pan to the fire to an out-of-control series of incendiary situations.
Ryan Reynolds provides a very good performance as a low-level CIA stooge who tries to stand his ground and do the right thing under uncontrollably intense circumstances, and he dials his usual snarky comedic style back to almost zero – which is good. I’ve never really cared much for the Deadpool Reynolds, or the Green Lantern Reynolds, but I like him a lot in this serious role where he is both rugged and believably vulnerable.
Denzel Washington is as awesome and classy as usual. He produced and stars in this film and he perfectly portrays Tobin Frost with equal amounts of crazy, cool and kick-ass. Safe House also stars Robert Patrick (T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and Sam Shepard (Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff) in small but strong performances.
There is not much in the way of original material here, but the fantastic acting, quick-paced editing and hypnotic hand-held cinematography place this movie a notch above standard rogue-spy fare. The way Safe House wraps up its ending is a little too clean for my taste, and there are some techxaggeration* issues in a couple areas that are a pet peeve of mine, but overall this film was an enjoyable and intense ride.
* Techxaggeration – When technology is used in a film, in an unbelievably exaggerating way, to quickly advance the story narrative.