Safe House (2012)
Before we start, I recollect that one well known UK critic described Safe House as sub-Tony Scott, upon its release. Now I’ve always been conflicted over Scott’s back catalogue, as I’ve always found his movies to be hampered by their own unique style. The subtleties of his characters and depth of his themes are all too often drowned out by his frenetic style and fast paced editing. Therefore a comment such as this really sets off alarm bells for me. Having recently watched The Equalizer 2, I wanted a further fix of Denzel Washington in a similar action vehicle. As Safe House was available on Netflix UK, I decided to kill a couple of hours and see what actually constitutes as “sub-Tony Scott”.
Frankly it is a mystery to me (and Toyah Wilcox) as to why actors of the calibre of Denzel Washington, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepard would deign to grace Daniel Espinosa's distinctly average action thriller, other than because it’s easy money. That is not meant as an insult. Actors have to make a living and regular work in average roles is more practical that infrequent parts in quality dramas. So I understand why generic action fodder such as this can be tempting to good actors. Sadly the presence of such a good cast does little to elevate this film to the standard of Training Day, Man on Fire or The Equalizer.
Rogue ex-CIA operative Tobin Frost (Washington), turns himself into the authorities and is subsequently held in a safe house in Cape Town. Rookie agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) endures a battle of wits with his enigmatic charge as well as swathes of bad guys queuing to kill Mr Frost. The Cape Town location is interesting initially. I believe the production balked at filming in the Favalas in Rio De Janeiro for security reasons. However, once the story moves to Europe and the US it really does become less engaging and far more formulaic. Denzel Washington is always watchable and brings a degree of gravitas to most pictures he appears in. Reynolds does what he can with a very formulaic role. The remainder of the advance the plot in true “Basil Exposition” style.
Safe House provides two hours of car chases, hand-to-hand fighting and sundry mayhem, all courtesy of contemporary film making’s favourite medium; shaky cam and lightning editing. The plot is neither staggeringly crass, nor above average. It simply follows the standard beats that you expect from this genre. For some viewers that is sufficient, providing adequate post-pub home viewing, via video-on-demand. Sadly the allure of the “A” list cast may raise expectations which are ultimately not met. Perhaps Swedish director Daniel Espinosa should have cut one of the more expensive named actors from the production and spent the money into revising the screenplay by David Guggenheim. A twist ending is only really works if you don't see it coming.