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Safe House | The Clapper Bored

Safe House

Words by Jeff Galasso

Denzel Washington dons an evil goatee while low-rung CIA operative Ryan Reynolds attempts to keep him in secure custody and out of the hands of a mysterious third-party in Safe House.  Directed by Daniel Espinosa, the film written by the inexperience David Guggenheim bears some striking resemblances to the Bourne series, but presents as a dim-witted cousin in comparison.

Reynolds is Matt Weston, who unbeknownst to his French girlfriend is a CIA “housekeeper” in Johannesburg, South Africa.  His job consists not of changing the agents bedding or cleaning their toilets, but rather manning the department’s safe house in the city.  Weston is desperate to prove himself and be transferred to Paris but has seen no action in his year looking after the house.  Fortunately for Weston (and the audience- how boring a film would it be watching this guy sit around doing nothing for two hours?), his dry streak is about to end as Washington’s rogue ex-agent Tobin Frost is extracted from Cape Town after he surrenders to the US consulate in order to evade a gang of thugs literally gunning for him.  Upon Frost’s arrival, a heavily armed assault on the supposedly secure safe house prompts Weston to escape with his manipulative “guest”.  Shootouts and car chases follow shootouts and car chases as the theme of betrayal becomes increasingly evident.  Meanwhile, the CIA heads look to contain the unfolding mess on their hands with Brendan Gleeson and Vera Farmiga bearing the roles of responsibility.

Safe House is a decent espionage action-thriller, but it brings nothing new to the table.  In fact, it appears to borrow too heavily from the Bourneseries, which has set the bar far higher than Safe House can hope to reach.  Reynolds doesn’t do anything especially wrong here, but he’s no Matt Damon and he’s not entirely convincing in the role of the ambitious, idealistic Weston.  Denzel gets to visit his dark-side again, which is always fun, even if his sociopath isn’t quite sociopathic enough.  Farmiga’s Linklater is a cross between Joan Allen’s Pam Landy and her own role in last year’s Source Code.  There are further parallels but those veer into spoiler territory.  Plot-wise, Guggenheim goes heavy on the action and light on the characters and their motivations.  Weston’s personal life better resembles a brief pencil sketch than a proper portrait and Frost’s past is glossed over.  The action is perhaps too constant, but there are some impressive moments to be had with a shanty town escape standing out.  The look of the film is clearly designed to give it a distance from the slicker spy flicks, often appearing grainy and shot using various coloured filters.  There’s nothing particularly impressive about the cinematography nor is the trickery able to distract from the film’s obvious inspiration.  One nice element to the script is the altering of the perspective around the central characters rather than the occurrence of a redeeming character twist.

Standing alone Safe House is an average movie with far more brawn than brains.  Though it is often bogged down by unfocused crashes and bangs, the final act delivers a strong close.  Safe House doesn’t hold a candle to any of the three Bourne flicks, but it seems the target audience here would be anyone who hasn’t seen the series to begin with.  If the old saying is true, Safe House is being extremely flattering to Robert Ludlum’s super spy but fails to make any impression of its own.

safe house poster
Title: Safe House
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson
Running Time : Just shy of two hours, apparently
Certificate: 15

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