Friday 2 March 2012


(Daniel Espinosa, 2012)

Safe House functions as perhaps the ultimate compliment to Director Tony Scott (who has no involvement here). Featuring his usual leading man in Denzel Washington, making extremely pungent, evocative use of a distinctive location (in this case Cape Town), shot and cut with a hyperactive, almost exaggerated beauty and no little style, and full of action scenes staged for maximum violence and brutality, Espinosa's action-thriller appears to assume Scott as a sub-genre in his own right.
As such, it's a decent, if somewhat generic Tony Scott film.
Ryan Reynolds takes the lead here, allowing Washington to assume the same sort of almost mythic bogie man role he took in Training Day. Washington plays Tobin Frost, an ex-CIA Agent gone rogue and trading secrets who has come into possession of a crucial computer file when he is cornered by a team of assassins in Cape Town and, desperate, hands himself in at a US Consulate. Delivered to a Safe House run by frustrated junior agent Reynolds, Washington's interrogation is interrupted when the assassins assault the house and kill the CIA Extraction team, forcing Reynolds to flee with his prisoner. The usual game of cat and mouse, double-cross and shoot and punch follows.
That is a little unfair. The plot is never riveting, but the story mechanics generally work and the odd adversarial relationship between Reynolds and Washington drive that. Reynolds plays the whole thing as if his character is a confused boy; always frightened, always unsure, generally on the edge of complete collapse. Its a slightly constricted, one-note performance, but then the script doesn't give him much else to do beyond the action stuff. At least that action stuff is often extremely well-done; each of the gun battles and car chases are exciting, visceral experiences. Best are the fist fights: in this post-Bourne world, they are gripping, brutal struggles to the death, convincingly exhausting in their physicality. Espinosa shoots it all with vivid colours and designer grit to the fore.
Washington gets his fair share of action too, but mainly he lends that intelligent poised movie star presence to his part; his character is always the smartest person in the room. That's what Denzel brings, that and tried, true charisma. The supporting cast backs him up; filled with classy character actors like Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Liam Cunningham and Sam Shepherd, who do a great job of selling such material.
The real star here, however, is South Africa itself, and Cape Town in particular, captured as a bustling, beautiful, cruel city by Espinosa, a fine stage in which his action sequences unfold.

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