Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"Man On Fire", “The Taking Of Pelham 123”
The first thing noticeable about "Safe House" is its amateurish camera-work, which gives the impression of found-footage movies, yet it is clearly not. Besides serving to induce motion-sickness, it also invokes the feeling of watching something raw and primal, further symbolized by the two lead actors, Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington respectively. Reynolds ("Green Lantern") plays a rookie CIA agent Matt Weston, who has never experienced field duty despite his credentials and is relegated to merely house-sitting, day after day for a year. His first big break comes in the form of the notorious Tobin Frost, played by Oscar-winner, Denzel Washington, who is under fire from both the CIA and rebel soldiers for selling out confidential information. Frost and Weston meet when the former is taken to Weston's safe house; however, the accompanying CIA group is soon attacked and killed by the rebels, leaving Frost and Weston to go on the run.
As the chase drags on, Weston's uneasy alliance with Frost forces him to wonder who the villains on his trail are working for, and whether his own bosses can really be trusted. And while this may sound formulaic, "Safe House" is worth a look mainly for the acting abilities of Reynolds and Washington, in the midst of Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa's frantic direction. Although the director's big Hollywood debut managed to differentiate itself from the other action thrillers simply because of his aforementioned camera-work, the technique itself is a double-edged blade as the urgent editing leads too one-too-many close-ups and frame rule-breaking, which reduced the action scenes to a series of blurs. Take heart that not every scene is a disappointment, as there are real gems like one slow-motion window-crashing scene, ably supported by noteworthy sound design and sterling work from cinematographer Oliver Wood.
Given that the highlight of the movie is not its action stunts, only the thriller genre is left to carry the weight, and sadly, the plot buckles. In addition, the race to keep the plot moving along means that "Safe House"'s characters are thinly drawn at best. Veterans like Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson are reduced to a supporting cast of somewhat flimsy government agent archetypes tacked on for product placement. Everyone owns an expensive mobile phone, including Reynolds, who uses an iPhone (lo and behold!) and drives around in a jet-black Mercedes SUV. On the other hand, the use of locations for the movie should also be commended, as the South African locations provide some insight into the country as opposed to being merely vast deserted places with singularly dangerous wildlife.
It should be reiterated that Espinosa has single-handedly redeemed his movie from the usual washed-up fare of action thrillers with his casting of Reynolds and Washington. Although Washington plays his usual wholesome, heroic persona here, in "Safe House", it imbues his anti-hero with a certain intelligence and sympathy, like that of Cruise in Michael Mann's "Collateral", which bodes well with Reynolds's vulnerable yet determined agent. The charisma and chemistry that the two exude more than brings up the bulk of the movie, in fact, it is the bulk of the movie as Reynolds fights hard to fulfil expectations yet is always one step behind the professional Washington, which, ironically mirrors their real-life counterparts. The plot may not have been written to develop the characters, but with every action that Reynolds or Washington takes, they unfold and expand. For example, the scene where Reynolds's Weston breaks up with his love interest, Ana Moreau (Nora Arnezeder), shows Weston's transformation into Washington's Frost after what Frost foretold him: "You will leave her", yet at the same time, he struggles to maintain his own honest character by leaving her with the truth.
Ultimately, the familiarity of "Safe House"'s plot coupled with Espinosa's unfamiliar directorial style are what detain it from being a truly great movie, or at least four-stardom. Despite the memorable acting by Reynolds and Washington and the occasional flashes of genius, the weak punch that the twist pulled led the movie to an early ring out among other blockbuster action thrillers.Cinema Online, 08 February 2012