Posted November 4, 2011 by Alex Moss Editor in Films
 
 

Safe House


There is an annual tradition in Hollywood, producer Franklin Leonard compliesthe Black List; a list, based on fellow producers’ votes, of the best unproduced films currently doing the studio rounds.  What this essentially means is that every year a scramble for the ‘best unproduced scripts’ begins in the hope that they can be turned into the best produced films of next year.  Back in 2010David Guggenheim’s script for Safe House made it to number four on the now famous list.  Quite an accolade, but does Safe House live up to such a billing?

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA agent working a dull safe house job in Cape Town.  There is no action here though and Weston yearns to be reassigned to a Paris safe house with his French girlfriend.  Just as Weston’s life looks as dull as it can get, the CIA inform him they are bringing a house guest to his location.  Said guest is the infamous Tobin Frost (DenzelWashington), a former CIA agent gone rogue who now sells national secrets to the highest bidder.  Clearly Frost is a prized asset to anyone.  So when the safe house is over-run, by menacing folks with big guns, Weston and Frost flee the scene and must learn to trust each other if they are going to survive all the back-stabbing and intrigue of the espionage world.

From it’s opening, you’d be forgiven for thinking Safe House is a Tony Scottfilm.  You’ve got his trademark sweeping helicopter shots, the sun setting/rising over a busy city, that orange-tinted grade to the film and, of course, DenzelWashington in full-on action mode.  Unfortunately, it’s not a Tony Scott film but, alas, it may have been better had it been. Scott knows how to balance breakneck action, zinging one-liners and a suspense-filled plot.  Safe Housedoes all of the above but never all at once and never at the right moments.

Yes the action is hugely kinetic, the kind of crash, bang, shaky-cam action Jason Bourne made famous.  Each gunshot, punch and car crash has genuine gravity and impact to it.  Yes, there are the occasional funny lines, even if surprisingly it’s Washington not Reynolds who gets them.  There’s even a whodunnit element as to who the real traitor against the great nation of the United States Of America is.  But, crucially, none of them mesh together and more importantly the plot and characters never really gel.

Director Daniel Espinosa does a solid job of trying to juggle the various different elements but can only do so much with the script given him.  The problem is, there is no real heart to the film.  Reynolds is frustrated at his position in the agency, Washington has seen the agency for what it really is, and while the two bond, slightly, there is never the kind of friendship that you want them to form.

Washington is on solid form, hissing for the first part of the film with that devil-may-care smile of his before reverting to his default father figure setting in the second half.  As Frost he certainly presents the most interesting element to the film but is always painted as the villain and yet the faceless goons chasing them feel like the real bad guys.  Reynolds meanwhile is horribly miscast.  He’s good in his role but the one-time Merc With A Mouth, Deadpool from X-Men Origins Wolverine, is at his best when he’s giving sarcastic retorts to his co-stars.  Here he is asked to be stoic, and while he pulls it off, you want that smug mentality to shine through when he’s onscreen but the script never allows him to go there.

All in all Safe House is a solid thriller.  It rattles along at a good pace, has enough action to keep you interested and ticks all the boxes of the action/thriller genre.  And therein lies the problem.  On this basis you can’t help but wonder why this script made the Black List.  If all the ingredients are there does that make it a producer’s dream?  Maybe, but you need to mix the ingredients together just right to bake a decent cake.  Fun but ultimately forgettable, this Safe House is just that, safe without daring to be great.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com