Safe House is a perfectly ordinary action thriller with little imagination but good actors to cover its tracks. The story is nothing you haven’t seen before, and feels like a mishmash of all that hyperkinetic, CIA espionage stuff that became popular following the Bourne movies. It even uses the tried, tested and oft-hated shaky cam method of filming action scenes (and even scenes of people standing still and talking). The result is that half of the action is surprisingly hard-hitting while the other half feels like the cameraman was having an epileptic fit.
It’s all couched in a grainy, saturated colour style that somehow feels more authentic in a Tony Scott kind of way. Indeed, Safe House director Daniel Espinosa feels like he’s doing his best to imitate Scott – or maybe it just seems that way since star Denzel Washington is something of a Scott regular, having appeared in four of his last five films (Unstoppable, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Déjà Vu and Man on Fire).
Ryan Reynolds reins it in as Matt Weston, a CIA operative who is stuck in a dull job managing a safe house in South Africa. He has to lie to his girlfriend about his job. One day however, rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost (Washington) is brought in for questioning but it’s not long before the safe house is attacked by bland henchmen villains. It turns out that Frost has gotten his hands on some hot information and it’s Weston’s job to both detain Frost and keep him alive (not that Frost needs much help in the latter department).
Microchips, double-crossing and espionage clichés ensue. There’s not a single new idea here and the lone twist is predictable from a mile away. The screenplay is parched of originality but – and this is the saving grace – Reynolds and Washington make for strong, captivating leads. Washington’s character in particular is pretty bare but he turns in a strong performance as usual. It’s Reynolds who surprises, clearly eager to impress after last year’s disastrous Green Lantern fiasco. He actually manages to play something resembling likeable instead of his familiar fast-talking, cocky self.
And yet the film is entertaining – which is all that matters. It’s neither too short nor too long and it commits few wrongs worth arguing over. In short, Safe House is true to its name: a safe bet. If only Robert Patrick (the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day) was in it more. Duder is beast and appears in some of the film’s best parts, notably a bloodless torture scene that might rile some viewers. Unfortunately, these parts are all towards the beginning. The rest of the film devolves into a thin action thriller experience that’s fun in the moment but forgettable soon after.