Film Review by Kam Williams
Rookie and Rogue Agents Make Strange Bedfellows in High Body-Count Spy Thriller
Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is a veteran CIA Agent who has been on the run for close to a decade since being suspected of selling military secrets to America’s enemies. By contrast, straitlaced Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a newcomer to the Agency who’s just been itching for some action. Unfortunately, he’s been stationed in South Africa for months where he’s only been assigned to maintain a backwater safe house that’s never been needed for a clandestine operation.
Until now. The pair’s paths cross soon after Frost decides to come in from proverbial cold in Cape Town because an army of assassins is closing in on him. The renegade spy surrenders himself at the U.S. Consulate which in turn is directed by top CIA brass to deposit him with Weston for debriefing.
However, all hell breaks loose right after the team of interrogators arrives, when the safe house unexpectedly comes under attack by a bunch of gun-toting, bloodthirsty mercenaries. Frost and West barely escape with their lives out the back door while all the rest of the CIA agents perish during the siege. With no idea why the supposedly secure location had been compromised or whether there’s anybody whose word they can trust, the rookie and the rogue suddenly realize their very survival depends on mutual cooperation.
That is the intriguing point of departure of Safe House, a riveting, espionage thriller featuring non-stop action and an ever-escalating, high body count. The film might best be described as a compelling cross of The Bourne Identity (2002) and Taken (2008), given the former’s “spy on the run desperate to clear his name” theme and the latter’s wanton slaughter and impatient sense of urgency.
The movie marks the English-language directorial debut of Sweden’s Daniel Espinosa, who must be credited for coaxing yet another vintage outing from two-time, Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington (for Glory and Training Day). In addition, he simultaneously allowed romantic comedy regular Ryan Reynolds to prove himself capable of playing more the handsome hunk opposite the blonde-of-the-moment.
The talented co-stars not only acquit themselves well in the convincingly-choreographed fight sequences, but their credible chemistry cultivated during downtime enables the audience to forgive the periodic holes in the picture’s Swiss cheese script. They are helped immeasurably in that endeavor by equally-powerful, support performances on the part of several consummate thespians, including Oscar-nominees Vera Farmiga (for Up in the Air) and Sam Shepard (for The Right Stuff) as well as Brendan Gleeson and Ruben Blades.
Likable unlikely buddies enmeshed in a pyrotechnics-driven, political potboiler with more twists than a Chubby Checker concert make for a cinematic experience that’s more than worth the price of admission.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and pervasive graphic violence.
In English, Afrikaans and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 115 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Saturday, February 11, 2012