Despite its unoriginal, CIA-agent-gone-bad plot and its predictable characters, “Safe House” will still entertain audiences that crave a gripping action flick. The plot, reminiscent of Angelina Jolie’s “Salt” and Matt Damon’s “Bourne” series, is pretty standard as far as thrillers go: The bad guys turn out to be good, the good guys turn out to be bad, and the CIA is always evil. In his American debut, director Daniel Espinosa keeps audiences hooked with his new take on this formulaic genre.
At Quality 16 and Rave
Ryan Reynolds (“The Proposal”) plays Matt Weston, a young CIA agent who spends his days trying to keep himself entertained as he guards a safe house in Cape Town. His life changes instantly when Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington, “American Gangster”), a well-known fugitive and ex-CIA operative, is delivered to his doorstep. When some mercenaries come knocking (figuratively, of course — they would never be so polite), Weston and Frost must go on the run from flying bullets and a pack of mean-looking bad guys.
Washington gives his customary rough, rage-filled action hero portrayal. Some of the scenes even look as though they’ve been ripped straight from his other movies, such as “Training Day” and “Man on Fire.” But there’s a reason Washington keeps starring in these types of movies: He’s great at playing a badass. Reynolds, a newcomer to non-comic based action, plays Weston well, despite seeming a little too pretty to play the part. But with all the fights and gunfire going on, he gets dirtied up rather fast and becomes a little more convincing as an innocent agent slowly starting to realize the betrayal surrounding him.
Espinosa does a remarkably good job on his first non-Swedish film. All of the close-ups, quick cuts and handheld-camera work build up the action and suspense, making “Safe House” a compelling visual story. At times, he gives too much away — a number of intense close-ups of Brendan Gleeson (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”), who plays Weston’s boss, reveal his bad nature, making his transition from good guy to enemy almost inevitable.
Espinosa does what he can to make the story as original as possible. For one thing, Frost willingly walks into the American consulate in South Africa and gives himself up. Espinosa also shies away from unrealistic scenarios in this film. Weston and Frost get beat up — a lot — and they don’t just walk away from fights unscathed.
Fair warning: This movie’s not for the faint of heart. It’s gory and has some strikingly sad scenes that one might expect from a film like “Hotel Rwanda.” While it’s obviously not the best movie to see if you’re in the mood for a wide range of emotional acting, “Safe House” will definitely keep viewers entertained for its 115-minute runtime. For all the action buffs out there, this movie is guaranteed to keep you squirming with suspense.