FILM REVIEW: Safe House

What do you get if you put Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, several big character actors and guns on location in South Africa? Suprisingly, a pretty good thriller.


Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a CIA safe house-keeper who is desperate for a promotion that's a little more stimulating than watching a bunch of monitors, which is all he seems to do. He has a nice French girlfriend in Cape Town and an opening credit sequence which allows for the obligatory Ryan Reynolds topless shot (pretty sure that's now written into every contract he signs). Meanwhile, Denzel Washington's Tobin Frost, rogue agent extraordinaire and downright cool customer, is engaging in some shady operations in the city. Frost, willingly captured, is brought to Weston's house, which turns out, unlike the title suggests, to not be that safe. After they come under attack by mysterious assailants, the pair are forced into a begrudging partnership. And once that happens, the film doesn't really let you stop for breath.


Directed by Daniel Espinosa (his first mainstream feature), Safe House shouldn't be good. It's got all the cliches of a bad thriller; the mismatched partners, the shady CIA operatives, car chases and a plot twist that any remotely active viewer will see coming a mile off. But somehow, amidst all the genre checklist, Espinosa creates a film that is tense, edge-of-your-seat stuff that lets you forget that you're watching what could have been something awful.


This is largely down to the performances of the two leads with Reynolds and Washington. Although both roles are the kind that the two actors could do in their sleep, they nevertheless give Weston and Frost more than just the stereotypical hero/anti-hero stuff. As a result, when the inevitable denouement occurs, the chemistry between the pair ensures that you actually care where it's all going to end up. This is also a key factor in the fight scenes; instead of cutting to wide shots of a couple of figures tussling, Espinosa brings you right into the action, holding the shot whilst the punches fly in to the point of it becoming claustrophobic. You see every fist or knee connecting, hands around throats or knives perilously close to flesh to the point of almost feeling the blows yourself. In a seriously impressive car chase scene, you, of course, get all the usual shots of cars flying down the street, people scattering and metal-crunching impacts, but you're also thrust into the car itself. 


In this respect, the South Africa location is inspired and is utilised to its full effect. A refreshing change from the usual American cityscapes, Cape Town gives the film another edge. It's grimy and sweaty, adding to the claustrophobic atmosphere that builds throughout the film. Even when the location switches to the countryside, we're forced inside and narrow corridors become the focus, rather than the wide open spaces beyond. One particularly effective action sequence takes place in a township of rickety, tightly-packed buildings. Unlike many action films who suffer from such fast cuts that you have absolutely no idea what's going on until a survivor emerges, this sequence follows three parties, on foot, across roofs and in vehicles. Such is the effectiveness of the editing that you never lose track of who is doing what to who, despite it going at the same fast pace.


By twisting all of the usual cliches ever so slightly, intense action sequences and with impressive lead performances, Safe House is a lot better than I expected. Sadly, its third act in all its predictability does let the side down slightly. However, it's well worth a night-in, if only to see a Reynolds-Washington pairing that knock three kinds of hell out of each other and everyone else.


****


- Becky

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