If you’re confused about what the plot of “Safe House”, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, don’t worry. It’s actually pretty simple. You have a government agent and he’s the best at what he does, but ends up going rogue. A deal he’s trying to cut goes wrong, and he’s forced to expose himself. His agency isn’t prepared for this, so they send a young, inexperienced agent looking to get ahead to take care of him until they can think of a better solution. As you can imagine, things don’t exactly go according to plan, and the result is two action-packed hours that include a lot of shooting, chasing, exploding, and of course backstabbing. Safe House is your run of the mill action thriller. But does that mean that it isn’t any good? Well, not necessarily.
There’s little that’s actually original about Safe House. We’ve all seen this kind of story before. In fact, replace the CIA setting with high-speed trains, and you basically have the same plot as another recent Denzel Washington movie, “Unstoppable.” But it’s all in the execution. And that execution makes for a pretty entertaining thriller. The actor brings his A-game to a movie that definitely needs it, and makes the most of a plot that has trouble ringing us in. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that if it was anyone other than Denzel in the starring role, this movie probably wouldn’t be very good. Denzel’s presence and his ability to make the most of the things around them make Safe House a film that is probably worth seeing at some point of another.
We already gave you the gist of the plot, but for the sake of being a little more detailed, here’s what happens: Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a young CIA agent who gets posted in Johannesburg as the “keeper” of a safe house for CIA operations. Now, not much usually happens in South Africa that interests the CIA, so it’s a pretty dull job. Weston tries to get out of it and find a better post, but his boss, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) gives him the run-around. Things are of course about to change for Weston, as simultaneously, Tobin Frost (Washington) is cutting a deal for some especially sensitive information that could threaten the CIA and a lot of people who work for the US Government. He gets it, but soon realizes that he’s being followed. A chase ensues, and Frost ends up at the American consulate. Frost has been rogue and an enemy of the United States and a broker for information, so this is no doubt odd and sudden to them, so Barlow, Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) and the rest of the CIA scramble to find a safe house and a team (led by Robert Patrick) to interrogate him. The people after Frost have no trouble finding him at the safe house. They attack it, and soon, Weston is the only person left to keep him away from the bad guys. Going against protocol, Weston takes Frost out of the safe house as they try to escape their pursuers. This leads them on a chase throughout Johannesburg on a hunt for a new safe haven, as well as for the truth behind Frost’s true intentions. The end result is not only a set of impressive action sequences and fight scenes, but also political intrigue and plenty of backstabbing and twists.
But as we said, this is something that we’ve all seen before. You don’t have to travel much further than your local video store or even a quick load up of Netflix to find more than enough such action thrillers that pretty much tell the same story. A misunderstood and talented individual has to take a young go-getter under his wing while being pursued by just about everyone. Safe house is by the numbers and relatively predictable, but that doesn’t stop director Daniel Espinosa from putting together a solid film based more around the actors’ performances, the beautiful setting and well-executed action sequences.
Outside of Denzel’s performance, the directing is definitely the film’s biggest strength. Espinosa takes a relatively ordinary script from David Guggeheim and insulates it with a wonderful setting in South Africa that honestly isn’t used often enough in films, action sequences that are both grand in scale but also practical, limiting things such as explosions and opting instead of chases or closed quarters shootouts, and using his surroundings to the film’s advantage. I’m not really a fan of his use of light, or rather lack thereof, but he definitely does a good job with what he’s given.
We already talked about Denzel’s performance, and you get exactly what you should expect from the Academy Award winner — and yes, that includes a few scenes of over-acting. Ryan Reynolds generally plays up against him well, but we can’t get over how terrible of an actor he really is at times. Reynolds basically has two acting faces: playful douchebag or concerned citizen, and there’s definitely no playful douchebaggery going on here, so you’re basically looking forward to two hours of him making the same quasi-serious face (similar to what we had to endure during “Green Lantern”). It’s not to the point where it hurts the film or anything, but he definitely has trouble keeping up. It’s actually quite interesting that Washington portrays the best CIA agent ever, while Reynolds plays the new guy who could stand to learn a thing or two. The film boasts some interesting supporting actors such as Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Robert Patrick, but the brunt of the movie is contested between the two top billed actors, and they do their part when it comes to carrying their load. As I mentioned, Denzel lifts everyone around him, and he does that here with Reynolds just like he did with Chris Pine last year in Unstoppable.
In the end, Safe House can probably be best summed up by its final sequences. A fast paced movie with lots of action and well-done fight and chase scenes that tries to overcome a script that is truly predictable and quite frankly a little uninteresting. Not to the point where you have to turn off your brain or anything, and in reality it’s pretty solid in terms of lacking any plot holes or anything like that, but you have to question whether this is the kind of movie you need to watch in theaters, or whether you can wait for it to hit Netflix or premium cable. After watching the movie (and still having been entertained by it, mind you), we’d probably still settle for the latter.
An ordinary plot and a few other issues prevent this movie from being spectacular, or really anything more than ordinary. But considering we’re talking about a February-released action-thriller, a considering the film is anchored by a great actor and a competent director, there’s really little we should be complaining about. It’s entertaining, and it’s well done. That’s why Safe House gets 7 rogue CIA agents out of 10.