CliqueClack Flicks

Safe House – An uneven thriller, but watch it for Denzel

Safe House - Theater Review
Release Date: 2/10/2012 - MPAA Rating: R
Clacker Rating: 3 Clacks

It became quite clear as I watched 'Safe House' that this is Denzel Washington's movie to command. But how did the rest of the movie do?

Contrary to the name, thrillers tend to bore me because they’re cliché. I went into Safe House skeptical, but the movie has some real positives. The basic plot is that Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is a rogue ex-CIA agent who’s spent the last 10 years selling government secrets to the highest bidder. The government finally has him under their control in South Africa and has put him in a safe house run by restless CIA agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds). Within an hour of his arrival, the safe house is attacked by a group of mercenaries and both Frost and Weston must run for their lives.

Washington does the best with his character out of the whole cast. The guy does charming and dangerous really well. More so, I believe that Tobin Frost – great name, by the way – is as dangerous as everyone says he is. Our introduction to the character is a 15 minute chase scene on foot where Frost continues to adapt to the situation fluently to avoid capture by the men out to kill him. That was easily the most enjoyable part of the movie, especially the end of that sequence.

While I think Reynolds was putting a lot of effort into this role and he doesn’t do a bad job, he’s still just OK. Whenever he’s in a scene with Washington, Washington steals the show. I just kept thinking of all the 30-something actors with much wider acting range that could have knocked this role out of the park. As it is, Reynolds is just run-of-the-mill here.
Brendan Gleeson is Reynold’s boss, and I mostly enjoyed him because I kept pretending he was Mad-Eye Moody. Vera Farmiga plays one of Gleeson’s colleagues at the CIA, and it was refreshing to see a woman in authority that doesn’t act like she has something to prove as a woman or have that be her main trait. She’s just a side character, but she was written and portrayed as a person first.

While I love the concept of using the safe house as a set piece in the film, the plot is really where the movie falters. Namely, I saw the twist coming from a mile away. I figured out the antagonist’s reveal within the first act and every clue laid out after that just confirmed it for me. It made the rest of the movie much slower for me. And yet when looking back knowing for sure who perpetrated these events, certain choices by the antagonist just don’t make much sense and it makes me like the movie less.

As the movie progressed, I started to hate the cinematography more and more. They choose this slightly shaky camera style, which doesn’t bother you at first but becomes increasingly agitating. There’s a scene in the middle of the 2nd act where Reynolds rendezvous with his girlfriend. It’s a serious moment in the movie, but the camera was shaking so badly in the close ups that I couldn’t even watch it. It became even worse during a fight scene later – between the one second cuts and the shaky camera, I had to look away so I wouldn’t get nauseous.

What I liked about maybe half of this movie was how they tried to make a more serious thriller, focusing on the themes of trust in a world full of secrets. The problem is that in between these serious and sometimes even thought-provoking scenes were the stupidest action scenes I’ve seen in a while. The first big chase scene I could handle until it went on for an extra five minutes, ending with Reynolds’ car getting slammed into a parked car and both Reynolds and Washington smashing into windshield … and then walking away with small scratches on their face. If this was a regular shoot-em-up action movie they might have gotten away with it, but I expected more from this movie after the great job they did with Washington’s introduction. The only face palm worthy scene was when Reynolds brings the not-so-willing Washington to the CIA’s next check-in point … at a soccer arena. During a huge soccer match. With thousands of people all crowded into one area where it would be so easy for the fugitive to escape. The CIA would have to be pretty dumb to actually put their check-in point there.

One of the aspects that saves the movie is the location. For one, South Africa looks absolutely gorgeous in some of these scenes, and they actually showed some of the shanty towns to contrast the natural beauty of the more rural areas. I also appreciated that the two main characters don’t jet set around the world in their chase. The only other place we see is the CIA’s headquarters, and all of the action happens in South Africa, which again feels more realistic.

The movie ends with a Kanye West song over the credits, which felt like a huge disconnect from the rest of this serious film. If there was rap used in the rest of the movie it would have been understandable, but Kanye’s song about screwing a lot of women just comes out of nowhere. Despite my complaints about Safe House, it was worth watching for Denzel’s performance – his Tobin Frost is a treat to watch and on top of that, no one in the cast does a necessarily bad job with what they were given. If you tend to go for government thriller movies, this might still be worth a watch. Just be ready for some frustrating plot choices.

Photo Credit: Universal

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