Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds face off in Cape Town
When former super spy turned traitor Tobin Frost (Washington) gives himself up in Cape Town, he’s transferred to a CIA safe house for processing. But after a raid on the safe house, inexperienced agent Matt Weston (Reynolds) is forced to go on the run with his prisoner in an attempt to find out who he can still trust.
Safe House is one of those minor action flicks which pop up from time to time, featuring surprisingly starry names who, you suspect, might have been partly swayed by the chance to travel to some semi exotic locale. In this case, the action takes place in South Africa but don’t discount the film entirely, there’s entertainment value to be found.
It’s the English language debut of Swedish director Daniel Espinosa and comes from a script by near newcomer David Guggenheim. The pair has nabbed some real star power for this action thriller, not only bagging Washington and Reynolds but also supporting turns from the likes of Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard and our own Liam Cunningham.
The film itself follows a fairly familiar formula – the tale of the near mythical fallen agent and the travails of a young man new to the service, all bound together by an endless stream of military and CIA cliché. Events proceed very much as you might expect, all the way to an overly simplistic if not rather stupid finale.
Safe House does have a couple of things going for it – including the action and location. Espinosa does a good job with the handful of action scenes, starting with the brutal breaching of the safe house and rarely pausing for breath. The gunfire is loud, the hand to hand fighting is suitably gritty and the chaotic car chases are guaranteed to elevate your heart rate. There’s also something refreshing about getting the chance for some cinema seat tourism – zipping through the streets of Cape Town and heading out into the stunning countryside in the latter half of the film.
The final plus point is the performances. Quite what drew these leads to this material is beyond me but Washington and Reynolds have decent on screen chemistry and enough twists and turns in the relationship to keep the audience engaged. As a master of manipulation, Washington seems to be having some fun with the role, a smile constantly touching the corner of his lips, while Reynolds further proves his comfort with dramatic roles, though a few more laughs wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The rest of the cast makes little impression, particularly a wasted Varmiga and Nora Arnezeder is a dramatic dud in the narratively insignificant role of Reynolds’s girlfriend. Her appearance helps to push the running time close to two hours when there’s simply not enough story to support that length.
Safe House is better than you might expect, grabbing a decent cast and throwing them into a nicely shot action thriller blender, but it’s likely to be swiftly forgotten as bigger and better titles replace it in multiplexes.