Safe House is the kind of film where, for anyone who’s seen the trailer, you can simply check your brain at the door. It’s really not a film about rocket science.
Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA agent who spends many dull days monitoring cameras in a safe house in Johannesburg with no ‘house guests’. That’s until the biggest bad-ass of them all is ushered in.
Enter Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), who’s handed himself into the authorities after a shady deal causes him to be tailed by some grumpy-looking baddies wanting to pop a cap in his bottom, led by a chap called Vargas (Fares Fares). You know he’s evil because he never smiles and he has a beard.
Despite Frost being accompanied by many CIA guys, led by Robert Patrick (as Daniel Kiefer), who would have thought that anyone could match the might of the T-1000? Well, Mr Patrick didn’t have his metal exoskeleton on this day because they’re overpowered by an appearance from Vargas & co., causing Weston to take Frost out of the building, commandeer a car and drive at breakneck speed until they can get clear of evil, with the intention of getting to a new safe house, but in getting from A to B, they have to lie low for 10 hours for no particular reason other than the CIA bigwigs tell them they have to stay “off the grid” until 6pm that day. Weston is also suffering with angst in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sub-plot about the fact he’s lied to his girlfriend (Nora Arnezeder) about the nature of his work, but it feels thrown in as an afterthought.
And all this is fine as a film for about 40 minutes or so, after which time things start to slow down for a while, then there’s some more action for a bit, then there’s a twist straight out of the “Hollywood Big Book of Twists”, then things meander for a bit longer, stalling occasionally. And then it ends.
For a film with such a simple premise, there’s a confusing element in there. Not the machinations of the plot, but in how it was all put together in the way it was, and also in having a number of big names and failing to utilise their talents and letting them sleepwalk through the two hour running time.
When it comes to the cast, well, I was going to see it more for the action rather than the two leads, as I’ve never rated Denzel, while Ryan is okay but doesn’t really command ‘leading man’ status. That said, the best moments came in a couple of brief scenes where they get to talk between themselves, even if Ryan mostly responds by telling Denzel to shut up because he doesn’t want to be distracted.
On top of that, there’s a number of good cast members, but no-one gets to exercise their potential, which is a great shame, especially the usually-wonderful Brendan Gleeson, here as CIA bloke David Barlow, who affects an American accent and does nothing to push the boat out. There’s also Sam Shepard as CIA Deputy Director Harlan Whitford (why do we never get the proper CIA Director in films, only the deputy one?) and Vera Farmiga as Gleeson’s colleague Catherine Linklater, who seems to do the least of all.
And when I saw Liam Cunningham was also in the cast I was looking forward to some banter between him and Gleeson, as per The Guard but, alas Liam only puts in a cameo appearance with his faux posh British accent and they never get to share screen time or dialogue.
Some other problems with the film, other than it being underwritten and how it keeps stop starting and should’ve been cut down to 90 minutes, are that the fights are sloppily directed with the camerawork zooming in and out of the action like the cameraman is suffering from Parkinson’s, and also that there’s too much mumbling going on. Whenever I see Safe House again, I’ll need to put the subtitles on as a fair portion of the dialogue isn’t as clear as it should be. Director Daniel Espinosa should really look at that issue before he’s let behind a camera again.
Running time: 115 minutes
Released: March 24th 2011
Directors: Daniel Espinosa
Producer: Scott Stuber
Screenplay: David Guggenheim
Music: Ramin Djawadi
Tobin Frost: Denzel Washington
Matt Weston: Ryan Reynolds
Catherine Linklater: Vera Farmiga
David Barlow: Brendan Gleeson
Harlan Whitford: Sam Shepard
Carlos Villar: Rubén Blades
Ana Moreau: Nora Arnezeder
Daniel Kiefer: Robert Patrick
Alec Wade: Liam Cunningham
Keller: Joel Kinnaman
Vargas: Fares Fares
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.