When Tobin Frost (Washington) is cornered by potential assassins in the middle of a highly illegal deal he decides the safest course of action is to turn himself into the authorities for protection. However it won’t surprise you to know that the houses of said authorities are far from as safe as the film’s title suggests.
Matt Weston (Reynolds), meanwhile, is cool and bored. We know this as he rides a motorbike with no helmet around Cape Town, knows his way around a boxing gym and just in case we are in any doubt throws a ball against a bare wall in the style of Steve McQueen. Matt is also desperate to escape back to America. He is a young CIA agent and his current assignment as the “landlord” of a quiet safe house is frustrating him as he wants to see some real action. Luckily for him the action is going to come to him.
Weston and Frost are thrown together when Frost is brought to the safe house for protection. Sadly for Frost this protection is also about getting him to talk. While concentrating on this however they drop the ball on the protection side of things and before you can say water-boarding the place is under siege. Luckily he is able to persuade the inexperienced Weston that rather than stay and both be killed they might want to think about using the back door. This is where the excitement that Matt had been looking for really kicks off.
As an action film it really does deliver and at quite a pace. As Matt and Tobin carjack a local (hey it is Cape Town, the guy was probably surprised to still have his car at that time in the day) they are pursued by the assassins. Car chases can begin to look so much like set pieces that you stop caring but this is delivered with such force that you can’t help but be engaged.
From here Weston and Frost are given some quality time to get to know each other. Frost is ex CIA now making a living by abusing the knowledge and trust his former employee offered him. Trust is one of the themes of the film and Frost suggests to Weston that he might be lying to his girlfriend to protect her but he is lying nonetheless. Frost sees his current life as the natural end to this line of reasoning and gives Weston something to think about while he waits for his next orders.
Giving the orders, when not squabbling, are Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson as two senior CIA agents and both give solid performances without breaking a sweat. They don’t really need to do anything other than move the plot on and if anything offer a respite from the many violent scenes involving our hero and anti-hero.
There are several more twists and turns as Frost and Weston continue on, many of them accompanied with raw violence that succeed in making you squirm, and other than a couple of ‘how convenient’ moments it really is gripping stuff. The polished way that the film mixes gritty violence with intense emotion is a sign that we shouldn’t be surprised if Daniel Espinosa’s name is mentioned as a potential director of the Bond franchise.
Other than the fine action, it is the relationship between Weston and Frost that makes this film. Reynolds handles the range of emotional situations this roller coaster ride throws him into with a surprising ease and is believable as a man struggling out of his depth. In turn it is always good to see Washington cast as the bad guy, and he convinces as a killer with a caring side. At one point Washington is described as a black Dorian Grey and you can see how things might look fine on the surface but on the inside he is bitter & twisted through the regret of how his life might have turned out differently.
The final scenes arrive after what doesn’t seem like too long and are not too over the top.
Like the perfectly chosen Jay-Z and Kayne West title song this movie is powerful with an underlying darkness that keeps you thinking after it has finished.
Safe House is in cinemas 24th February 2012.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writer: David Guggenheim
Stars: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Robert Patrick
Runtime: 115 min
Country: USA, South Africa