Denzel Washington is back in ‘tough guy action mode’ for this gun-totting, knife-stabbing, car-chasing solid but unoriginal action film, set in Cape Town, South Africa.
The film is based around CIA operative Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) who is the resident agent, or “house-keeper” at a CIA safe house in Cape Town. Matt wants nothing more than to escape the far-flung dreary outpost and become a full case officer in Paris. His mundane daily work-life is shattered when highly sought-after traitor and ex CIA operative Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is brought to the safe house for holding.
Tobin is in possession of a rather sensitive file – one which it seems certain people will do anything to recover from him. Soon after he receives the file, people are after him. In the first real action set-piece in the film, Tobin is cornered by gun-totting assailants & flees to the American Consulate for refuge. It is from here that he is transferred to the safe house. He’s not there for long though, as soon enough the bad guys have somehow tracked them down and stormed the safe house. Left with no choice, Matt breaks out of the safe house with Tobin in his custody. From here the game of cat and mouse is on.
The question of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys is the mystery here. Tobin is bad then good then bad then who knows? Matt is a by-the-books guy and believes in following orders and respecting protocol. This attitude is increasingly put to the test as he struggles to get his head around the situation. How was the safe house breached and who are the bad guys here?
From here the film plays out in various locations in and around Cape Town, in a quite action-packed fashion. There are high-octane car chases, roof-top running through shanty towns, and a game of hide & seek in a stadium. Although it relies a too heavily on shaky cam shots, the action is solid and enjoyable to watch. Ryan Reynolds holds his own alongside Denzel Washington, and is surprisingly good in this physically demanding role. Sadly the excellent Vera Fermiga and Brendan Gleeson are woefully underused, in roles which do not give them much to do.
Setting the film in Cape Town is the one original element that this film provides. It’s great to see an action film which isn’t set in the USA or a major European city. Much of the film was actually shot on location in Cape Town. The stadium scenes were filmed in the very modern Cape Town Stadium, which was built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup; while many of the action scenes were shot in outskirts of Cape Town and the surrounding area.
Despite good performances from Washington and Reynolds, and an interesting setting, the rather predictable story stops the film from being anything more than average. It’s fairly easy to see early on where the film is heading, and the film fails to try anything really original. While watching the film you can’t help but thinking that ‘this happened in a Bourne film’, or ‘this was very similar to something in Mission Impossible’. It’s hard to believe that producer/director Tony Scott isn’t involved in the film in some way.
The existence of a love interest for Matt and any conversations about her, or scenes with her in are very cliché. Because she is such a bland and under-developed character, her presence really doesn’t add anything to the film except runtime. We propose that from now on films are not allowed to show male characters having memory flashbacks in which their love interest is lying between white sheets, with the sun streaming in. It’s been done before – really it has.
We can’t help but feel that there was a missed opportunity to add some comedy to this film. Washington and Reynolds can both do comedy – so why weren’t there more comedic scenes, or even lines for that matter? The film takes itself a little bit too seriously, which is rather unfortunate. A few more laughs would have gone a good way to adding some life to the film.
Overall Safe House is a solid but mostly unoriginal action film. Washington and Reynolds bring the goods, but sadly the predictable story stops the film from being anything more than average.
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writer(s): David Guggenheim
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson
Runtime: 115 minutes
Release date(s): Australia & New Zealand: February 9th 2012
[Images via Collider]