Safe House (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
A stultifying life in a C.I.A. safe house in Cape Town, South Africa was not a job that Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) found especially gratifying. Having been stationed in the same spot for twelve months, he was more than vocal with his superior, Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), about a highly sought out case officer position. However, the job required an extensive field experience, something that Weston didn’t have much. When Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) was taken to Weston’s safe house which was quickly ambushed upon his arrival, Weston took it upon himself to present Frost to the proper authorities. It just might be the field experience he needed to advance his career. “Safe House,” written by David Guggenheim, was an exciting espionage action-thriller only when Frost and Weston were together. It also did a good job establishing excitement prior to the first moment they were able to occupy the same room. Perhaps it had something to do with the way the actors approached their characters. Reynolds was able to highlight Weston’s ambition and greenness by portraying a level of fear and uncertainty when the character faced life-changing decisions. Do I shoot this cop who thinks that I’m the bad guy? Do I snap this fellow agent’s neck who’s trying to kill me when he has no idea that he might be working for a traitor of this country? Despite shaky cams and quick cuts, Daniel Espinosa, the director, was smart enough to slow down the material and allow it to breathe. Even though the angle of humanity within a cutthroat job was not delved into in especially thoughtful ways, the decision separated it from nondescript action flicks where raining bullets was the one and only source of entertainment. On the other hand, Washington was magnetic as a man so involved in whatever he felt needed to be done, at times I wondered if he actually enjoyed or craved the aggressiveness natural in his profession. As an agent that had gone rogue nine years ago, selling information to terrorists in the meantime and wanted by agencies in four continents, I enjoyed that it was difficult to gauge what exactly it was he intended to accomplish. It was established that it may appear that he was doing one thing but he was actually doing another. He certainly shouldn’t be trusted. It was fun that he wasn’t meant to be trusted. Reynolds and Washington fed off each other’s energy which made an otherwise unremarkable template more than what it was.Other reasons why the picture worked were the extended car chases and its accompanying sounds. When our protagonist’s vehicle crashed into other cars, I noticed by jaw clenching as bullets showered the car and glass crunched from the impact. It was wise to minimize the number of times when the camera pulled away from the action because it gave the illusion that we were in the passenger seat, receiving one whiplash after another. A special mention to Joel Kinnaman as Keller, a safe house keeper toward the end of the film. I was so fascinated with the way he moved and carried his character. When he blinked, I thought, “What is he thinking?” Kinnaman may be someone to watch out for. “Safe House” was padded by a bland bureaucratic talk, a romance heavy on the eyelids, and a gauzy main villain. If anything, the film was lucky to have charming presences which elevated its more pedestrian corners.