Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Film Review: Safe House (2012)

Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writer: David Guggenheim
Stars: Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds

Let’s face it; action movies are not what they used to be. I’m referring to out-and-out action movies, not the spy genre where the James Bonds and Mission: Impossible are filed, but the likes of Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, The Last Boyscout, Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Sadly, it’s a dying breed with only lightweight imitations such as the Fast and Furious series or Jason Statham conveyor belt of tripe to keep the explosions and gunplay alive.

With Safe House we have a full-on action film that, for the most part, delivers. The film’s simple story stars Denzel Washington as the brilliantly named Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA operative who has gone rouge and has files on the organisation which could bring it to its knees. Ryan Reynolds plays a rookie CIA agent who is a ‘house sitter’ for a CIA safe house in Cape Town, where the film takes place, where Frost is brought in for questioning once he is caught – no spoiler here if you’ve seen the trailer. As is always the case, things don’t go to plan and the two stars are paired together for the next 90 minutes to work out why.

From beginning to end, Safe House is packed with action that is fast, violent, frantic, brutal, and relentless. The action scenes, however, while not particularly new or inventive are filmed with real purpose and executed with style and finesse; the sound effects editing is superb and adds real bite to the numerous smash, bangs, and booms which come thick and fast and was even too loud at times in the screening I watched. First time director Daniel Espinosa’s style undeniably owes credit to both Tony Scott and Paul Greengrass, but the film is never a direct attempt to be a knock off of anything else and the location of Cape Town is a refreshing change from the usual cities we see in action pictures. The film is certainly more like Man on Fire (Tony Scott) and The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass) than Domino or Green Zone.

Washington and Reynolds make a fine team, and this is possibly the best I’ve seen Reynolds and delivers a much needed change in quality from him in comparison to last year’s woeful double bill of Green Lantern and The Change-Up. Washington, for the most part coasts through his slightly underwritten role but a coasting Denzel is better than many actors at the top of their game. I for one still go to see a film primarily if I like the actors’ or directors’ previous work and not on the best-selling book or TV show it might be based on, and Safe House uses its star power to good effect.

Moreover, where as Washington and Reynolds have a key role in the film’s success, the supporting roles are drastically underwritten; but this wouldn’t be so noticeable if they weren’t played by such talented actors (Brendan Gleeson) and actresses (Vera Famiga). The ‘twist’ in the final act is also so plainly obvious that you know it’s coming from the very start and just isn’t needed in films like this; that’s why screenwriter David Guggenheim is no Shane Black quite yet. Also, the title ‘Safe House’ isn’t really justified as not even a third of the film is set in the actual safe house, but it certainly sounds cool.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Safe House is certainly not a perfect action picture, but is far superior to most of the genre of recent years and that in itself is high praise indeed.

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