Daniel Espinosa’s Safe House really wants to be a classy spy thriller in the vein of the Bourne films, echoing the artistic nature of Fernando Meirelles’ The Constant Gardener. What it turns out to be is warmed-over Tony Scott (right down to Denzel Washington), yet somehow more frustrating and dull — and every bit as terrible as that might sound. Safe House should be a primer for how not to make an action picture. Besides its needlessly self-serious tone, the film wallows in its own realism, or idea of realism. The photography is grainy and the color washed out in faux Scott LSD-chrome, while the car chases, shoot-outs, and fight scenes are all shot with handheld cameras and in uber-close-up. The film follows young CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), who watches a safe house in Cape Town. After the arrest and arrival of one of America’s great traitors, a former agent with the goofy name of Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), they’re attacked, and Matt and Frost must go on the run. Matt wants to follow protocol and bring Frost in to the proper authorities, while Frost, of course, wants to escape custody, while both want to get to the bottom of who’s in charge of the gunmen after them. Fisticuffs and gunfights ensue, with the twists and turns the film throws out there being telegraphed from the opening scenes. Most of the movie is built around Reynolds (who at some point in 2011 became the poor man’s Ryan Gosling), and if history — and Green Lantern — is any indication, things can only end in tears. Denzel gets a nice smarmy anti-hero role that’s textbook Denzel, but he’s really underused in a movie that wants him to be its selling point.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writer: David Guggenheim
Cast: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shephard, Rubén Blades, Nora Arnezeder, Robert Patrick, Sebastian Roche and Tanit Phoenix