Film Reviews

SAFE HOUSE

By • Feb 16th, 2012 •

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Ignore the CIA agent gone rouge-laden story. Director Daniel Espinosa delivers a tense, Bourne-style action thriller with bold city street car chases and messy, bloody fights in hallways.

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) has spent over a year alone in a CIA “safe house” in South Africa. What is the CIA doing in South Africa? Matt’s French girlfriend Ana (Nora Arnezeder) thinks he is an environmentalist. What he does all day is wait around and check in with Ana.

Matt’s mentor, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), tells him to just be patient and a big assignment as a field agent will be his. Matt wants a job in Paris (he’s in love) and this posting is his sacrificial internship.

Finally, a “guest” is brought to the Safe House. Matt can stop pacing the floor and throwing a ball against the wall (a la Steve McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE). The guest is the legendary Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington). Tobin Frost has been selling government secrets for over a decade and has been more elusive than Osama bin Laden.

Even the neighborhood children knew OBL was there under house arrest. The CIA didn’t have a clue! But then again, OBL had wives and kids. He was no Tobin Frost.

Tobin has gotten hold of a chip that is very, very important. Tobin is being hunted by a savage, but well organized and equipped, gang of trained assassins, led by Vargas (Fares Fares). He has been hired to capture Tobin and kill anyone who gets in his way.

Now that Tobin has been captured and is secure in the elaborate Safe House, Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick) and his team of torturers arrive. Tobin is ready for the waterboarding challenge. He has to beat the record of 20 seconds. Meanwhile, Matt is horrified at the interrogation techniques.

He must have skipped that class.

The arrival of Vargas and his robot-killers causes havoc and while everyone is systemically massacred, Matt handcuffs Tobin and they escape. A wild and exciting car chase and mega-damage to South Africa’s slums results.

Matt has been trained by the CIA. He’s no dummy innkeeper.

Meanwhile, back at Langley, chief Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepard) wants things cleaned up fast. Facing off against Barlow is Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga). It was her team that was interrogating Tobin.

Tobin sizes up Matt and gives him a tutorial on being a Safe House bellhop. He started out in a Safe House and worked his way up to being a renowned figure in the world of spycraft. He tells Matt that once he is told by his superiors, “We’ll handle it from here”, he’s marked as the patsy to take the blowback consequences.

Didn’t I see that exchange – with a different statement – in another spy movie? It wasn’t I SPY, was it?

Tobin escapes in a crowded sports stadium and now Matt wants to prove himself and bring him in.

Tobin needs fake papers and he goes to a slum where his old friend Carlos (Ruben Blades) is living with his wife and daughter. Vargas turns up. Don’t you hate when that happens in movies? The guy does an old friend a favor and then his house and family gets blown up.

“No good deed goes unpunished.”

There should always be one minor character that stands out. And here Joel Kinnaman, as Keller, makes a big impression. Yes, we love Kinnaman (and all the rain) as Sarah Linden’s partner Stephen Holder in AMC’s series The Killing.

The CIA, MI6, the Mossad, Pakistan’s ISI, and even the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, are on that damn chip! Tobin played no favorites. He has the goods on everyone.

The storyline may be unfathomable, but who really knows who starts the mayhem in places like Syria anyhow? In action movies, we don’t want to see real life where people get questioned by the police and have to fill out reports. Things go by much faster when parked cars are unlocked, everybody seems to know where the Safe Houses are, and no one needs to reload their weapons. Crashed cars always keep running.

Imagine if Aaron Cross (THE BOURNE LEGACY) had to stop to gas up a car or wait on line to go through airport security?

Director Daniel Espinosa and the stars do allow for severe injuries. If you jump off a roof straight into aluminum covered slum shack, you get hurt. When you get a chopping knife in your stomach, you bleed and need medical attention.

Washington plays his standard alter-ego bad guy, bored with the histrionics around him. It’s another day at the office for him. Reynolds is terrific and is completely invested in his role. Farmiga is so severely made up that it is distracting. I understand her role of authority within the CIA, but what is up with that god-awful hairstyle and cruel lips?

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