A high-profile fugitive turns himself in to a US consulate in Cape Town and is sent to a CIA ‘Safe House’ for further questioning. It appears fairly quickly however that it’s not only the CIA seeking the information kept by the detainee, and dangerous forces are at work to intercept him first.
Rookie agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is tasked to occupy an empty safe house until a guest arrives. A Safe House is a secret location whereby the CIA can keep guests (prisoners) entertained (detained, sometimes tortured) in a safe (secure) environment before checking out (awaiting extradition to the US) or checking in at another hotel (detention centre).
As with much military lingo, the terminology is used to remove any connotation with reality or danger. Cue highly dangerous and super-intelligent sociopath Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) a rogue ex-CIA agent whose crimes include the sale of sensitive information to a number of intelligence agencies globally.
His expertise in violence and manipulation are going to make it difficult for Weston to protect him, especially in a scenario for which there is no protocol… Explosive, frenetic and fluid, this thriller rarely lets up on the pace and yet when it does you are subjected to some uncomfortable scenes, forcing the audience to question its morality as much as the characters.
Addressing contemporary issues such as illegal torture methods employed by intelligence agencies, the price of sensitive information and the ethical boundaries people cross in order to protect national security, or a criminal. As events unfold the political themes are subsided by some superb action from director Daniel Espinosa.
This includes a high-octane vehicle sequence that would leave notorious car chases from spy classics like the Bourne trilogy and Ronin in its wake. When bullets have depleted, the fights are up-close, gritty and very personal, most being witnessed as if via a steady-cam emphasising the violence and brutality with every jittery thwack.
Denzel’s Tobin Frost is similar to his Oscar winning character from Training Day, stealing every scene by displaying a deceitful, dangerous air of authority. Reynolds is the tortured protagonist who is in over his head, so much so he appears to physically age through the film but he is convincing in a role with little opportunity for gags or charm.
Owing to these performances, I found myself overlooking many predictable elements in Safe House as some of the answers in the film were offered up a little too easily. You also hoped for more interplay between characters, reminiscent of 80s good cop/bad cop flicks such as 48 Hours and Midnight Run, but the subject matter in Safe House is simply too dark to make allowances.
Despite being well researched, this isn’t of the same calibre as some espionage thrillers, and is on occasion let down by the writing. It makes up for this by delivering two hours of beautifully shot action, a mix of suspense and adrenalin that serves as ideal popcorn fodder.
Safe House is released in the UK on 24th February 2012
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